AN UNTIMELY EXIT
This is the 60th and final post on this Blog
By Shaun Costello
So, it’s come to this. Considering my situation, I suppose that only my pig-headed stubbornness has kept me going for the last few years. The perhaps unrealistic anticipation of a change of fortune. The possibility, no matter how remote, that a publisher would see value in one of my manuscripts, and come to my rescue with an advance check that might just serve to keep the wolves at bay. A television producer might call with an offer I couldn’t possibly refuse. My Blog might grow in popularity to the point where ad
revenues would be offered per site hits received. Even a winning Lotto ticket – Hey, you never know. So I kept on writing, and promoting, and networking, and buying those silly Lotto tickets, and trying not to lose hope. There’s a moment however, when you simply run out of options, and run out of time. And that moment confronts me now.
Since none of the aforementioned possibilities have come to fruition, the crushing financial reality of the situation I face remains unchanged and untenable. Unfortunately, I can not work. My arthritis, while not life-threatening, keeps my physical abilities limited. I have struggled, with some success, to make my handicap as unnoticeable as possible to those around me. But, none the less, it’s there. My small Social Security stipend
does not come close to paying my monthly bills, and sooner than later, the services those bills represent will begin to disappear. Sad stuff indeed. So, like a cowboy wanting to hit the big roundup in the sky with his boots on, I think it more seemly to leave this world with my lights still burning, the water still running, and my internet connection still active.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life fixing problems and overcoming obstacles through sheer bravado. I would beat up on whatever stood in my way until it yielded to me. And until now, I’ve gotten away with it. But this mortality business is something else again. The will to live is surprisingly strong. It can’t be bullied. It has to be finessed.
I have few regrets. Until my illness in 1993, my life was going according to plan. I couldn’t have written a better script for myself. I was doing the work I loved, surrounded by people whose company I found blissfully stimulating, and being well paid for my efforts. But the parasites my body collected, while I was in the Middle East making a film for Time Magazine about the first Gulf
War, took their hungry toll. Although I recovered after a year of treatment, my body was never the same. The poison given me to kill my little passengers also did damage to my immune system, which gradually sped up the onset of those maladies normally associated with aging, like my arthritis. My body clock’s rhythm increased exponentially after the bugs. Again, not life-threatening, but certainly life-limiting.
Since I was outed in 2005, regarding my porn involvement back in the Seventies, and with the help of social media, I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends long absent in my life, and have made new friends who have become surprisingly important to me. I’ve enjoyed the daily Facebook banter, even though the site, because of its popularity and the greed of its controllers, has lost much of its initial luster. Maintaining almost constant contact with friends across the US, and all over Europe has been fun.
In an attempt to maintain my legacy, such as it is, I have taken steps to protect those two elements that comprise the body of work I leave behind; my Blog, and the publishing rights to my writing. My friend Alan Hoffman in Chicago has generously agreed to maintain my Blog, which exists under the domain names – http://shauncostello.worpress.com and http://shauncostello.com I have assigned all publishing and media rights to everything I have written in my lifetime to my friend Thomas Eikrem in London, with the understanding that he will pass on any revenues to my daughter, who lives with my sister in Sag Harbor, New York.
So, that’s it then. My affairs, such as they are, are in order. My only regret is the timing of my exit. I would have enjoyed continuing to live my life, finishing my manuscripts, contributing to my Blog, harassing Republicans on Huffpost, creating an internet ruckus whenever I felt it necessary, and interacting with friends. Other than living with sore joints and needing another new hip, I’m actually surprisingly healthy for my age. But I’ve been living on borrowed time, and that time is up. Life is a luxury I can no longer afford. I’m doing nothing, more or less, than playing the hand I’ve been dealt, and I’m afraid it’s time to fold.
© 2013 Shaun Costello
WILD ABOUT HARRY
A friend who knew him well
remembers HARRY REEMS
by Shaun Costello
On March 19th, just three weeks ago, HARRY REEMS, the star of Deep Throat and many other adult films of the 1970′s, died of pancreatic cancer, at a VA Hospice in Salt Lake City, Utah. Before the media circus that surrounded Deep Throat created the fast talking, Burleaque-comedic actor know as HARRY REEMS, he was just a young man, trying like so many before him, to make it in show business. He was born Herbert Streicher to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, and was a close friend of mine. When I read the news of his death I was devestated. So many rich memories. Such an important friend. I knew I had to do something, so I put everything else aside, and sat down to write a personal reminiscence of my friendship with Herb. I have worked almost around the clock, since the day after his death, and finished the text yesterday. I’m very pleased with how it came out. I think Herb would be too.
Herb and Harry – a dichotomy he leaves behind for the rest of us to puzzle over. As Herb he was a son, a brother, a Bar Mitzvah boy, a High School track star, a student, a Marine, an aspiring actor, and a loyal and generous friend. As Harry he was a porn icon, an international celebrity, a darling of the TV Talk Show circuit, a victim of judicial overreach, a convicted felon, a finally-absolved and victorious defendent, a drunk, a drug addict, a Twelve Step Champion, a converted Christian, a successful real estate executive, a scratch golfer, a semi-pro skier, a loving husband, and, at long last, a happy man.
WILD ABOUT HARRY is a hard cover, eight by ten, four color book – text driven, and including over a hundred four color and black and white, fun images of HARRY’S life. It’s being printed on an on-demand basis and is available now at the link below:
I’m quite pleased at how this story came out, and, for those of you who have a fascination with the Seventies, the birth of the adult film industry, the First Amendment trial and media circus that surrounded the prosecution of Deep Throat, and the complex character that was HARRY REEMS, you will be too.
AVAILABLE NOW – CLICK ON LINK BELOW
BEST OF THE WEST
Hollywood’s All-Time Ten Best Westerns (the movies – not the motels)
By Shaun Costello
The Western, being Hollywood’s favorite entertainment genre, was produced in such numbers that the sheer volume of titles makes the job of narrowing the field to only ten just about impossible. Maybe, the first task is to define the genre – just what exactly is a Western Movie? The stranger, who shows up in the nick of time to save a town from corrupt land owners – SHANE? The town Marshall who single-handedly takes responsibility for the safety of his town, even though the very people he’s protecting run for cover, and refuse to stand behind him – HIGH NOON? A noirish cavalcade of over-the-hill characters trying to make a buck on aging reputations – UNFORGIVEN? Cowpokes, banding together, against all odds, to make the impossible journey – RED RIVER? A tale of vengeance, and the collecting of odd souls, as a man seeks out the men who murdered his family, only to find salvation in something more important – THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES? The saga of men who had outlived their era, and couldn’t seem to adapt to reality – BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID? The answer, of course, is yes to all of these, as well as the other titles on this list.
But what must we eliminate? Here’s where I begin to make enemies. First, the Seven Samurai clones: THE WILD BUNCH, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and THE PROFESSIONALS – three of my all time favorite movies, but not true Westerns, not really. Next, anything with singing – sorry, Gene and Roy. And how about all those dark, cerebral, recently made Westerns, starring country western singers with long hair, and giant hats, wearing those ankle-length duster-coats, that seem to make Nascar fans swoon – Nah! Let’s stick to the best of the genre. And let’s also remember that we’re doing the subjectivity shuttle, here. Everyone has their favorites, and I know there are die-hard Peckinpah fans out there, who would rather go down in a hail of squibs, than turn their back on THE WILD BUNCH, but this is MY list, and it’s tough to whittle it down to just ten. For purpose of full disclosure, I have to admit to breaking one of my rules here, which is to never list a movie that’s been on one of my previous lists, but RED RIVER is one of the greatest films ever produced by Hollywood, and it’s a Western, so it’s here. Get over it.
So, in alphabetical order:
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
1969 George Roy Hill
Hey, it was the Sixties, and if ever there was a Sixties western, it’s this memorable saga of Butch and Sundance. William Goldman’s tasty screenplay is loosely based on real events, so here is some background:
Robert LeRoy Parker (April 13, 1866 – November 6, 1908/1936?), better known as Butch Cassidy, was a notorious American train robber, and leader of the Wild Bunch Gang in the American Old West, doing most of his mischief in Wyoming and Montana from the 1880’s through the turn of the century. After pursuing a career in crime for several years in the United States, the pressures of being pursued, notably by the Pinkerton Detective Agency,
forced him to flee with an accomplice, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, known as the Sundance Kid, and Longabaugh’s girlfriend, Etta Place, first to Argentina and then to Bolivia, where he and Longabaugh were allegedly killed in a shootout in November 1908.
OK, back to Hollywood. This movie is many things on many levels, and all of them good, which almost never works, but in this case, worked to perfection. Enough beautifully staged action to qualify as
a solid action film, Goldman’s brilliant and hilarious screenplay, which makes it an engaging comedy, and the inevitable, tragic ending, which you knew somehow was coming, but that happens so quickly that it doesn’t sour the film’s success as the ultimate, happy go lucky Buddy Movie. From the trick opening, to Butch and Sundance’s demise in a hail of Bolivian bullets, the movie never loses its focus, probably due in equal parts to Newman and Redford’s chemistry, Goldman’s script, and George
Roy Hill’s adroit direction. Katherine Ross, as the Kid’s gal pal, is lovely to look at, and nice ensemble work by a game cast. Solid lensing by Conrad Hall, who moved in with Ms Ross during the shooting, and a lovely score by Burt Bacharach. The huge worldwide Box Office would encourage producers to come up with an appropriate vehicle to repackage the Newman/Redford magic, which would happen five years later in another George Roy Hill blockbuster, The Sting.
THE GUNFIGHTER 1950 Henry King
The problem with being a gunfighter, it seems, is that everybody wants a piece of your street cred.
Notorious but aging gunfighter Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) tries to avoid the trouble that goes with his reputation as the fastest draw in the west. However, when a cocksure cowpoke named Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) deliberately provokes an argument and draws on him, Ringo has no choice but to kill him. Ringo is warned to leave the area because the deceased has three brothers who are certain to seek revenge. Sure enough, the brothers pursue him, but he takes them by surprise, disarming them and driving off their horses.
Ringo then stops to wait in the nearby town of Cayenne, where he occupies a corner of the largely empty saloon for most of the remaining film. It is only revealed later that he is hoping for a chance to see his wife and young son, whom he has not seen in
eight years. The local barkeep, Mac (Karl Malden), remembers him from the past in another town and alerts Sheriff Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell), who turns out to be an old friend of Ringo’s. Strett also knows Ringo’s wife Peggy (Helen Westcott), and tells Ringo she has changed her surname to hide their past life together. Urging Ringo to leave town as quickly as possible, Strett nevertheless agrees to go and ask Peggy to come and see him. She declines, still fearing the notorious and hotheaded nature of Ringo’s younger days that drove them apart.
While waiting, Ringo also has to deal with Hunt Bromley (Skip Homeier), the young local would-be gunslinger who is keen to make a name for himself, and Jerry Marlowe (an uncredited Cliff Clark), a semi-retired man who mistakenly believes Ringo killed his son some years before. Ringo also meets another friend from the
past, a bar-girl named Molly (Jean Parker), who eventually persuades Peggy to come and talk to her husband. Meeting at last, Ringo tells his wife that he has changed, that he wants to settle down somewhere where people do not know him, possibly out in California, and asks her to leave with him. She refuses, but agrees to reconsider in a year’s time if he will remain true to his word. Ringo also gets acquainted with his son at last, although he does not tell him of their relationship.
However, by this time Ringo has spent too long in town. The three brothers are still trailing him and arrive, but are captured by Strett and his deputies before they can ambush Ringo. As Ringo makes final preparations to leave, Bromley seizes his chance. Eager to get himself a reputation as a gunfighter, Bromley shoots Ringo in the back, fatally wounding him. Word quickly spreads through the
town that Bromley has shot Ringo. As Ringo lies dying he tells Sheriff Strett to say that he, rather than Bromley, drew first. When Bromley starts to say that he doesn’t want Ringo’s help, Ringo rejects Bromley’s words, informing his killer that he will soon know how it feels to have every hotshot and two-bit gunfighter out to get him in turn. An angry Strett tells Bromley to leave town immediately, punctuating his order with a severe beating which he warns is “just the beginning” of what Bromley’s got coming to him for killing Ringo. It is clear that Bromley has become a magnet for trouble: he will soon discover (just as Ringo did) that notoriety as a gunfighter is in reality a curse which will follow him wherever he goes, making him both an outcast and a target for the rest of his life.
The film closes with Peggy Walsh attending Jimmy Ringo’s funeral, making her way through the crowd around the church door with her son to reveal, quietly but with pride, what the townsfolk have never known – that she is Mrs Jimmy Ringo. Thus, despite his death, the gunfighter finally achieves what he sought in coming to the town – his wife’s forgiveness and reconciliation.
Nice work by a peak Peck, Malden, and a game ensemble of mostly “B” players. Solid direction here by Henry King, and dark lensing by Arthur C Miller. The screenplay is credited to William Bowers, but word has it that a major rewrite was done by Nunnally Johnson, who also Produced. Good score by Alfred Newman. This is a small, dark, unpretentious Western that never tries to over-reach, and stays on-target throughout.
HIGH NOON 1952 Fred Zinnemann
Now considered one of the great American Westerns, High Noon received some frosty reactions when it opened in 1952.
Upon its release, the film was criticized by audiences, as it did not contain such expected Western archetypes as chases, violence, action, and picture postcard scenery. Rather, it presented emotional and moralistic dialogue throughout most of the film. Only in the last few minutes were there any action scenes.
In the Soviet Union the film was criticized as “a glorification of the individual.” The American Left appreciated the film for what they believed was an allegory of people (Hollywood people, in particular) who were afraid to stand up to HUAC. However, the film eventually gained the respect of people with conservative/anti-communist views. Ronald Reagan, a conservative and fervent anti-Communist, said he appreciated the film because the main character had a
strong dedication to duty, law, and the well-being of the town despite the refusal of the townspeople to help. Dwight Eisenhower loved the film and frequently screened it in the White House, as did many other American presidents. Bill Clinton cited High Noon as his favorite film and screened it a record 17 times at the White House.
Actor John Wayne disliked the film because he felt it was an allegory for blacklisting, which he actively supported. In his Playboy interview from May 1971, Wayne stated he considered High Noon “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life” and went on to say he would never regret having helped blacklist liberal screenwriter Carl Foreman from Hollywood.
Ironically, Gary Cooper himself had conservative political views and was a “friendly witness” before HUAC several years earlier, although he did not name names and later strongly opposed blacklisting. Wayne accepted Cooper’s Academy Award for the role as Cooper was unable to attend the presentation.
In 1959, Wayne teamed up with director Howard Hawks to make Rio Bravo, as a conservative response. Hawks explained, “I made Rio Bravo because I didn’t like High Noon. Neither did Duke. I didn’t think a good town marshal was going to run around town like a
chicken with his head cut off asking everyone to help. And who saves him? His Quaker wife. That isn’t my idea of a good Western.”
Irritated by Hawks’s criticisms, director Fred Zinnemann responded, “I admire Hawks very much. I only wish he’d leave my films alone!” Zinnemann later said in a 1973 interview, “I’m told that Howard Hawks has said on various occasions that he made Rio Bravo as a kind of answer to High Noon, because he didn’t believe that a good sheriff would go running around town asking for other people’s help to do his job. I’m rather surprised at this kind of thinking. Sheriffs are people and no two people are alike. The story of High Noon takes place in the Old West but it is really a story about a man’s conflict of conscience. In this sense it is a cousin to A Man for All Seasons. In any event, respect for the Western Hero has not been diminished by High Noon.”
I included so much background because it’s so surprising. Back to the movie. It’s said the there’s no such thing as an honest man. Will Kane (Gary Cooper) proves otherwise. Kane, the longtime marshal of Hadleyville, New Mexico Territory, has just married pacifist Quaker Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) and turned in his badge. He intends to become a storekeeper elsewhere. Suddenly, the town learns that Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald)—a criminal Kane brought to justice—is due to arrive on the noon train.
Miller had been sentenced to hang but was pardoned on an unspecified legal technicality. In court, he had vowed to get revenge on Kane and anyone else who got in the way. Miller’s three gang members – his younger brother Ben (Sheb Wooley), Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef) and Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) wait for him at the station.
Kane and his wife leave town, but fearing that the gang will hunt him down and be a danger to the townspeople, Kane turns back. He reclaims his badge and scours the town for help, even interrupting Sunday church services, with little success. His deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), resigns because Kane did not recommend him as the new marshal.
Kane goes to warn old flame Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado), first Frank Miller’s lover, then Kane’s, and now Harvey’s. This girl gets around. Aware of what Miller will do to her if he finds her, she quickly sells her business and prepares to leave town.
Amy gives her husband an ultimatum: she is leaving on the noon train, with or without him.
The worried townspeople encourage Kane to leave, hoping that would defuse the situation. Even Kane’s good friends the Fullers are at odds about how to deal with the situation. Mildred Fuller (Eve McVeagh) wants her husband, Sam (Harry Morgan) to speak with Kane when he comes to their home, but he makes her claim he is not home.
In the end, Kane faces the Miller Gang alone. Kane guns down two of the gang, though he himself is wounded in the process. Helen Ramírez and Amy both board the train, but Amy gets off when she hears the sound of gunfire. Amy chooses her husband’s life over her religious beliefs, shooting Pierce from behind. Frank then takes her hostage to force Kane into the open. However, Amy suddenly attacks Frank, giving Kane a clear shot, and Kane shoots Frank Miller dead. As the townspeople emerge, Kane contemptuously throws his marshal’s star in the dirt and leaves town with his wife.
No Western had ever come close to this kind of gripping drama, and the term “Adult Western” was coined to describe it. Brilliantly piloted by Zinnemann’s steady hand, the tension builds relentlessly until the Quaker bride shoots the last bad guy. Cooper is steadfast and perfect, Kelly is trim and convincing, and Katy Jurado shines as the busiest girl in town. Crisp black and white lensing by Floyd Crosby, and brilliant editing by Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad, relentlessly keeping the clock ticking as the whole town waits for the Noon Train. A memorable music score by Dimitri Tiomkin. One of the real champs.
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES 1976 Clint Eastwood
I know I’ll take some flak for including this, but I love this movie, and every ridiculous character in it.
Josey Wales, a Missouri farmer, is driven to revenge by the murder of his wife and son by a band of pro-Union Jayhawkers—Senator James H. Lane’s Redlegs from Kansas.
Wales joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri Bushwhackers led by William T. Anderson. At the conclusion of the war, Captain Fletcher persuades the guerrillas to surrender, saying they have been granted amnesty. Wales refuses to surrender. As a result, he and one young man are the only survivors when Captain Terrill’s Redlegs massacre the surrendering men. Wales intervenes and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun.
Senator Lane puts a $5,000 bounty on Wales, who is now on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters. Along the way, despite wishing to be left alone, he accumulates a diverse group of companions. They include an old Cherokee named Lone Watie, a young Navajo woman, and an elderly woman from Kansas and her granddaughter whom Wales rescued from Comancheros. And a mangy hound who Wales spits his tobacco on.
In Texas, Wales and his companions are cornered in a ranch house which is fortified to withstand Indian raids. The Redlegs attack but are gunned down by the defenders. Wales, despite being out of ammunition, pursues the fleeing Captain Terrill on horseback. When he catches him, Wales dry fires his pistols through all twenty–four empty chambers before stabbing Terrill with his own cavalry sword.
At the bar in nearby Santa Rio, a wounded Wales finds Fletcher with two Texas Rangers. The locals at the bar, who refer to Wales as “Mr. Wilson,” tell the Rangers that Wales was killed in a shoot-out in Monterrey, Mexico. The Rangers accept this story and move on. Fletcher refuses to believe that Wales is dead. He says that he will go to Mexico and look for Wales himself. Seeing the blood dripping on Wales’s boot, Fletcher says that he will give Wales the first move, because he “owes him that.” Wales rides off, hopefully to rejoin his odd collection of companions who have set up housekeeping at the old lady’s late son’s Rancho.
This is typical, sentimental story telling from Eastwood, who, along with John Ford, gets two titles on this list. Without his knowledge or consent, and gradually throughout his journey, Josey’s murdered family is replaced the odd collection of characters who he saves from calamity along the way, and feels responsible for. Chief Dan George plays the old Cherokee, and delivers too many hilarious, dead-pan lines to count.
Nice work by director Eastwood, with solid cinematography by Bruce Surtees, and editing by Ferris Webster. Nice job by all.
RED RIVER 1948 Howard Hawks
As American as it gets. Hawks’ memorable tapestry of the blazing of the Chisholm Trail. The cattle were in Texas, but the Rail Head was in Abilene Kansas. And driving a huge and ornery herd of cattle, for the very first time, across the Red River, over mountain ranges, through hostile Indian territory, risking misadventure with nature and bands of rustlers, was no easy business.
Hawks, probably Hollywood’s best dialogue director, made John Wayne almost believable. Lots of crusty, spicy cowpoke dialogue that might be corny in the hands of another director, but Hawks pulls it off.
One memorable scene has John Ireland and Montgomery Clift admiring each other’s six shooters in great detail. Say’s Ireland, “The only thing as beautiful as a good gun is a Swiss Watch, or a
woman from anywhere. You ever have a Swiss watch?” Of course, Hawks was having some fun with guns as penis parody material, which gets funnier with each viewing.
It’s dawn on the range, and the men and the cattle are ready. Hawks’ camera does a slow, minute-long, 360 pan across the faces of cowboy after cowboy, beginning and ending on Wayne, who looks to Montgomery Clift and finally say’s, “Take ‘em to Missouri, Matt”. Clift raises his hat and whoops the first of many,
And the next cowboy does the same, and in quick cuts now, face after face, whoop after whoop, until, finally driven by the drama of the moment, the music swells, and the herd begins to move. It’s one of the great moments in movie history and, if you haven’t experienced it – shame on you.
THE SEARCHERS 1956 John Ford
Directed by John Ford, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, and set during the Texas–Indian Wars, the film stars John Wayne (who else) as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted (by Comanches no less) niece played by Natalie Wood, along with Jeffrey Hunter as his adoptive nephew, who accompanies him on the search.
In 1868, Ethan Edwards (Wayne) returns from the American Civil War, in which he fought for the Confederacy, to the home of his brother Aaron (Walter Coy) in the wilderness of west Texas. Wrongdoing or legal trouble in Ethan’s past is suggested by his three-year absence, a large quantity of gold coins in his possession, a Mexican revolutionary war medal that he gives to his young niece Debbie (played as a child by Natalie Wood’s sister Lana Wood), and his refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the Texas Rangers, as well as Rev. Samuel Clayton mentioning that Ethan “fits a lot of descriptions”.
Shortly after Ethan’s arrival, cattle belonging to his neighbor Lars Jorgensen (John Qualen) are stolen, and when Captain Samuel Clayton (Ward Bond) leads Ethan and a group of Rangers to follow the trail, they discover that the theft was a ploy by Comanche to draw the men away from their families. When they return home, they find the Edwards homestead in flames; Aaron, his wife Martha (Dorothy Jordan), and their son Ben (Robert Lyden) dead; and Debbie and her older sister Lucy (Pippa Scott) abducted.
After a brief funeral, the men return to pursuing the Comanches. When they find their camp, Ethan recommends an open attack, in which the girls would be killed, but Clayton insists on sneaking in. The Rangers find the camp deserted, and when they continue their pursuit, the Indians almost catch them in a trap. The Rangers fend off the Indian attack, but with too few men to ensure victory, Clayton and the posse return home, leaving Ethan to continue his search for the girls with Lucy’s fiancé Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey) and Debbie’s adopted brother Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter). However, after Ethan finds Lucy brutally murdered and presumably raped in a canyon near the Comanche camp, Brad becomes enraged, rides wildly into the camp, and is killed.
Ethan and Martin search until winter, when they lose the trail. When they return to the Jorgensen ranch, Martin is enthusiastically welcomed by the Jorgensens’ daughter Laurie (Vera Miles), and Ethan finds a letter waiting for him from a man named Futterman, who has information about Debbie. Ethan, who would rather travel alone, leaves without Martin the next morning, but Laurie provides Martin with a horse to catch up. At Futterman’s (Peter Mamakos) trading post, Ethan and Martin learn that Debbie has been taken by Scar (Henry Brandon), the chief of the Nawyecka band of Comanches. A year or more later, Laurie receives a letter from Martin describing the ongoing search. In reading the letter aloud, Laurie narrates the next few scenes, in which Ethan kills Futterman for trying to steal his money, Martin accidentally buys a Comanche wife, and the two men find part of Scar’s tribe killed by soldiers.
After looking for Debbie at a military fort, Ethan and Martin go to New Mexico, where a Mexican man leads them to Scar. They find Debbie, now an adolescent (Natalie Wood), living as one of Scar’s wives. When she meets with the men outside the camp, she says she has become a Comanche and asks them to leave without her. However, Ethan would rather see her dead than living as an Indian. He tries to shoot her, but Martin shields her with his body and a Comanche shoots Ethan with an arrow. Ethan and Martin escape to safety, where Martin saves Ethan by tending to his wound. Martin is furious at Ethan for attempting to kill Debbie and wishes him dead. “That’ll be the day,” Ethan replies. The men then return home.
Meanwhile, Charlie McCorry (Ken Curtis) has been courting Laurie in Martin’s absence. Ethan and Martin arrive home just as Charlie and Laurie’s wedding is about to begin. After a fistfight between Martin and Charlie, a nervous “Yankee” soldier, Lt. Greenhill (Patrick Wayne), arrives with news that Ethan’s half-crazy friend Mose Harper (Hank Worden) knows where Scar is. Clayton leads his men to the Comanche camp, this time for a direct attack, but Martin is allowed to sneak in and rescue Debbie, who welcomes him. During the attack, Martin kills Scar and Ethan scalps him.
When Ethan sees Debbie, Martin is unable to stop him from chasing her, but instead of killing her, Ethan carries her home. Once Debbie is safely with her family, and Martin is reunited with Laurie, Ethan walks away, alone, the cabin door closing on his receding image in one of the most famous and iconic closing scenes in film history.
Quite a yarn, nicely piloted by Ford, with beautiful cinematography by Winton Hoch. Ford’s Favorite location, Monument Valley, never looked better. Wayne seems comfortable with this kind of suds, and obviously works well with Ford. Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, and Natalie Wood round out the cast.
A busy Western about guilt and vengeance. Very nice indeed.
SHANE 1953 George Stevens
I saw this as a child, in the Edwards Theater in East Hampton, which was the venue that provided so many of my early movie experiences. I can still remember young Brandon deWilde’s voice echoing across the valley, calling to Shane to come back, as Alan Ladd rides off into a perfect movie ending. Great stuff. Great movie.
Two themes here that reoccur in movie westerns, over and over; you just can’t escape who you are, and sometimes a man just stands up. And more often than not, both cost you what you want most. This is a simple story about good and evil, and right and wrong, and doing what’s needed, no matter the cost. A simple story delicately handled by director George Stevens, with a game cast of heroes and villains. It’s the old story of the hard working homesteaders, trying to make a go of it against all odds, and against the will of the greedy land barons, who want to keep the range open and free of the fences these pesky farmers keep putting up everywhere. Just how far will the land Barons go to squeeze the homesteaders off their land? Assault? Arson? Murder? There’s no end to it. These are simple farmers, unable or unwilling to fight back. They need help. They need a hero. Into this sordid atmosphere, a quiet man appears, riding into town wearing buckskin, looking for work. His name is Shane.
The location is an isolated valley in the sparsely settled territory of Wyoming. Whatever his past, Shane soon finds himself drawn into a conflict between homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and ruthless cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who wants to force Starrett and the others off the land.
Shane stays for supper and the night at the invitation of Joe’s wife, Marian (Jean Arthur), and starts working as a farmhand. Young Joey (Brandon deWilde) is drawn to him and the gun, and wants to learn how to shoot. Shane tries to teach him and his mother that a gun is a tool like any other, except it’s designed to shoot people. Whether it’s used for good or not depends on the person using it.
There is an obvious attraction, and perhaps a history, between Shane and Marian. She tells Shane that they would be better off if there weren’t any guns in the valley, including his. She is emphatic that guns are not going to be a part of her son’s life.
When Shane goes into town with Starrett and the rest of the homesteaders, he gets into a fistfight with Ryker’s men after being ridiculed for backing down before. With Joe’s help, they win, and the shopkeeper orders them out. Ryker declares that the next time Shane or Joe go to town the “air will be filled with gunsmoke.”
As tensions mount, Ryker hires Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), an unscrupulous, psychopathic gunslinger, who laughs at the thought of murder. Wilson goads ex-Confederate Frank ‘Stonewall’ Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a hot-tempered Alabama homesteader, into a fight, and shoots him down in the street.
After the funeral, many plan to leave. But a fire set by Ryker’s men spurs them into pulling together to put it out, rather than driving them out.
Ryker decides to have Wilson kill Starrett in an ambush at the saloon, under the pretense of negotiating. One of Ryker’s men loses his stomach for this, and warns Shane that Starrett’s “up against a stacked deck.”
Joe is resolved to go anyway. He knows that Shane will look after Marian and Joey if he doesn’t survive. But Shane tells Joe he’s no match for Wilson, although he might be a match for Ryker. They fight and Shane has to knock him unconscious. Joey yells at Shane for pistol whipping his father with the butt of his gun.
Marian begs Shane not to go and asks if he is doing it for her. He admits that he is, and for Joey, and all the decent people who want a chance to live and grow up there.
In town, Shane walks into the saloon. Shane tells Ryker that they’re both relics of the Old West, but Ryker hasn’t realized it yet. Wilson draws, but is shot and keeps reflexively shooting, even after he’s dead – only Jack Palance can get away with stuff like this. Ryker pulls a hidden gun and Shane returns fire. He’s turned to leave when Ryker’s brother fires a Winchester rifle from the balcony overhead. Joey, who ran after Shane, calls out and Shane fires back.
Shane walks out of the saloon, where Joey is waiting for him. He says that he has to move on and tells him to take care of his family. Shane also says to tell Joey’s mother that there “aren’t any more guns in the valley.”
Shane’s blood runs onto Joey’s hands when he reaches up to him. Joey’s worried, but Shane tells him that’s fine. Wounded, Shane sits up, with his arm hanging uselessly at his side as he rides past the grave markers on Cemetery Hill, and out of town, into the sunrise, over the mountains.
Whether Shane has been mortally wounded, as is often speculated, is apparent in neither the film nor in Schaefer’s novel.
Best scene: Stevens needed a gimmick, a piece of stagecraft to set up the entrance of Wilson, the gunfighter hired by Ryker to harass the homesteaders. Wilson is played by Jack Palance, billed in the credits as Walter Palance, in his first important role. Stevens wanted the audience to understand that the man who was about to come through the swinging doors of the Saloon, was evil incarnate, before they ever saw him. In the background is the
doorway to the saloon, not yet open, with a man’s legs and boots visible behind the swinging doors. Stevens sticks a sleeping dog in the foreground. As the saloon door opens, the dog awakens, whimpers, and crawls out of frame. One of the best evil entrances ever staged.
A simple story – beautifully told.
SILVERADO 1985 Lawrence Kasdan
Something you need to know. Two years before Silverado, Larry Kasdan made The Big Chill, which did impressive box office, and was loved by just about everyone I knew. And I hated it. I thought it was an endless, pretentious, post mortem gab fest, although I loved
the house, and the music, and fell totally in love with a delicious young Glenn Close. Anyway, The Big Chill was supposed to be a great opportunity for a young unknown actor named Kevin Costner to show his stuff. Unfortunately for Costner, the picture was re-edited leaving his entire performance on the editing room floor.
He’s the dead guy in the coffin, who everyone’s talking about. Kasdan liked Costner, and felt badly about what had happened, so he kept an eye out for a likely vehicle to put Costner’s talents to good use. While working, two years later, on the script for Siverado, Kasdan expanded the role he wrote for Costner, to make up for poor Kevin getting stuck in that coffin. Just so you know.
Emmett (Scott Glenn) is ambushed by three men while he sleeps in a deserted shack. In a brief gunfight, he kills all of the assailants. As he travels to Silverado, Emmett finds a man, Paden (Kevin Kline), lying in the desert, having been robbed and left to die.
Emmett and Paden ride to the town of Turley to meet Emmett’s brother, Jake (Kevin Costner), who is locked up and awaiting hanging for killing a man in self-defense. Paden is later jailed when he encounters and kills one of the men who robbed him. Emmett aids Jake and Paden in a breakout with the help of Mal (Danny Glover), a black cowboy who was run out of town by sheriff John Langston (John Cleese).
After helping a wagon train of settlers recover their stolen money from thieves, and leading them to Silverado, the group disbands to find their relatives and settle into the town. Emmett and Jake learn from their sister’s husband, the land agent for the area, that rancher Ethan McKendrick (Ray Baker) is attempting to maintain the open range, which he will dominate with his enormous herds of cattle, by driving all lawful claimants off the land. Emmett had
killed McKendrick’s father years earlier in a gunfight, and McKendrick had hired the men who attempted to kill Emmett upon his release from prison. Mal finds his father Ezra (Joe Seneca), left destitute after his home had been burned down and his land overrun by cattle.
It is soon revealed that the sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy), an old friend of Paden’s, is on McKendrick’s payroll. After McKendrick’s men murder Ezra, burn the land office, and kidnap Emmett’s nephew Augie (Thomas Wilson Brown); Paden, Mal, Emmett, and Jake determine to defy
Cobb. The four stampede McKendrick’s cattle to provide cover for a raid on his ranch, in which most of the bandits are killed and the kidnapped boy is rescued. They then return to town, where in a series of encounters, each defeats his own personal enemy. In the last of these, Paden kills Cobb in a duel. Emmett and Jake leave for California, their long stated goal, while Mal and his sister reunite and decide to rebuild their father’s homestead. Paden stays in Silverado as the new sheriff.
This is rollicking, knee slapping good fun from beginning to end. Nicely piloted by Kasdan, who also wrote the screenplay with his brother Mark. Tasty tangy dialogue delivered by a game cast, but it’s little Linda Hunt who steels the show as the tidy little saloon keeper who rather fancies Kevin Kline. A robust musical score from Bruce Broughton, whose work I’m unfamiliar with. Good work by all. Great fun.
STAGECOACH 1939 John Ford
In 1939, John Ford (who else) would finally make a Western for grown ups, and movies would never be the same again. Rumor has it that Orson Welles screened Stagecoach over twenty times with DP Greg Toland, during pre production for Citizen Kane. Room Ceilings had been included in Stagecoach by Ford and DP Bert Glennon, and Welles was so impressed that he reworked the cinematic design for Citizen Kane.
John Ford’s first talking Western – and talk they do, starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne in his break-through role. The screenplay, written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, is an adaptation of “The Stage to Lordsburg”, a 1937 short story by Ernest Haycox. The film follows a group of strangers riding on a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory.
Although Ford had made many Westerns in the silent film era, he had never previously directed a sound Western. Between 1929 and 1939, he directed films in almost every other genre, including Wee Willie Winkie , starring Shirley Temple, and The Informer, starring Victor McLaghlen. Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley, in the American south-west on the Arizona–Utah border, as a location, many of which also starred John Wayne. In Stagecoach the director skillfully blended shots of Monument Valley with shots filmed at Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, and other locations.
In 1880, a motley group of strangers boards the east-bound stagecoach from Tonto, Arizona Territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory. Among them are Dallas (Claire Trevor), a prostitute who is being driven out of town by the members of the “Law and Order League”; an alcoholic doctor, Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell); pregnant Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), who is traveling to see her cavalry officer husband; and whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek).
When the stage driver, Buck (Andy Devine), looks for his normal shotgun guard, Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) tells him that the guard has gone searching for fugitive the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Buck tells Marshal Wilcox that Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) is in Lordsburg. Knowing that Kid has vowed to avenge the deaths of his father and brother at Plummer’s hands, the marshal decides to ride along as guard.
As they set out, U.S. cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) informs the group that Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath and his small troop will provide an escort until they reach Dry Fork. Gambler and Southern gentleman Hatfield (John Carradine) joins them and at the edge of town, the stage is flagged down by banker Henry Gatewood, (Berton Churchill), who is absconding with $50,000 embezzled from his bank.
Along the way, they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse became lame and left him afoot. Even though they are friends, Curly has no choice but to take Ringo into custody. As the trip progresses, Ringo takes a strong liking to Dallas.
When Doc Boone tells Peacock that he served as a doctor in the Union Army during the “War of the Rebellion,” Hatfield quickly uses a Southern term, the “War for Southern Independence.” Later, Mrs. Mallory asks Hatfield whether he was ever in Virginia; he tells her he served in the Confederate Army under her father’s command.
When the stage reaches Dry Fork, the group is informed that the expected cavalry detachment has gone to Apache Wells. Buck wants to turn back, but Curly demands that the group vote. With only Buck and Peacock objecting, they proceed to Apache Wells. There, Mrs. Mallory faints and goes into labor when she hears that her husband had been wounded in battle. Doc Boone is called upon to assist the delivery, and later Dallas emerges holding a healthy baby. Later that night, Ringo asks Dallas to marry him. She does not give him an immediate answer, afraid to reveal her checkered past, but the next morning, she agrees if he promises to give up his plan to fight the Plummers. Encouraged by Dallas, Ringo escapes but returns when he sees signs of a possible Indian attack.
When the stage reaches Lee’s Ferry, the passengers find the station and ferry burned, and those who were not killed have fled. They tie large logs to the sides of the stagecoach and float it across the river. Just when they think that danger has passed, they are set upon by a band of Apaches. Curly releases Ringo from his handcuffs to help repel the attack. During a long chase, when things look bleak, Hatfield is about to use his last bullet to save Mrs. Mallory from being taken alive when he is fatally wounded. Just then, the 6th U.S. cavalry arrives to the rescue of the group.
When the stage finally arrives in Lordsburg, Gatewood is arrested by the local sheriff, and Mrs. Mallory is told that her husband’s wound is not serious. Dallas begs Ringo not to seek vengeance against the Plummers, but he is determined to settle matters. Curly grants him leave and his gun. In the ensuing shootout, Ringo dispatches Luke and his two brothers, then returns to Curly, expecting to return to jail. He asks the lawman to take Dallas to his ranch. However, when Ringo boards a wagon and says goodbye, Curly invites Dallas to ride to the edge of town. As she climbs aboard, and Curly and Doc laugh and start the horses moving, letting Ringo “escape” with Dallas.
Stagecoach is the granddaddy of the modern Western Film genre. The yardstick by which all others are measured. After Stagecoach, movies would never look the same. Ford had invented a whole new kind of movie, which would be endlessly imitated throughout the post-Stagecoach era of modern motion pictures.
UNFORGIVEN 1992 Clint Eastwood
If you’re looking for a good guy to root for, you’ve come to the wrong movie. Unforgiven has none.
Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay written by David Webb Peoples, the film tells the story of William Munny, an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job years after he had hung up his guns and turned to farming. A dark, dark Western that deals frankly with the uglier aspects of violence and the myth of the Old West, it stars Eastwood in the lead role, with Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris.
Eastwood dedicated the movie to deceased directors and mentors Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hackman), and Best Film Editing. Eastwood himself was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, but he lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. In 2004, Unforgiven was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
The film was only the third western to win the Oscar for Best Picture following Cimarron (1931) and Dances With Wolves (1990).
A group of prostitutes in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, led by Strawberry Alice (Fisher), offers a $1,000 reward to whomever can kill Quick Mike (Mucci) and “Davey-Boy” Bunting (Campbell), two cowboys who disfigured Delilah Fitzgerald (Levine), one of their own. This upsets the local sheriff, Little Bill Daggett (Hackman), a former gunfighter and now an obsessive keeper of the peace who does not allow guns or criminals in his town. Little Bill had given the two men leniency, despite their crime.
Miles away in Kansas, the Schofield Kid (Woolvett), a boastful young man, visits the pig farm of William Munny (Eastwood), seeking to recruit him to kill the cowboys. In his youth, Munny was a bandit who was notorious for being a vicious, cold-blooded murderer, but he is now a repentant widower raising two children and has sworn off alcohol. Though Munny initially refuses to help with the
assassination, his farm is failing, putting his children’s future in jeopardy. Munny reconsiders a few days later and sets off to catch up with the Kid. On his way, Munny recruits Ned Logan (Freeman), another retired gunfighter who reluctantly leaves his wife (Cardinal) to go along.
Back in Wyoming, gunfighter English Bob (Harris) and his biographer, W. W. Beauchamp (Rubinek), arrive in Big Whiskey, also seeking the reward. Little Bill and his deputies disarm Bob, and Bill beats him savagely, hoping to set an example for other would-be assassins. The next morning Bob is ejected from town, but Beauchamp decides to stay and write about Bill, who has impressed him with his tales of old gunfights and seeming knowledge of the inner workings of a gunfighter’s psyche.
Munny, Logan and the Kid arrive later amid a rain storm and go to the saloon/whorehouse to discover the cowboys’ location. Munny has a bad fever after riding in the rain, and is sitting alone in the saloon when Little Bill and his deputies arrive to confront him. Little Bill has no idea who Munny is, and after finding a pistol on him he beats him brutally and kicks him out onto the street. Logan and the Kid, upstairs getting “advances” on their payment from the prostitutes, escape out a back window. The three regroup at a barn outside of town, where they nurse Munny back to health.
Three days later, they ambush a group of cowboys and kill Bunting – although it becomes apparent that Logan and Munny no longer have much stomach for murder. Logan decides to return home while Munny and the Kid head to the cowboys’ ranch, where the Kid ambushes Quick Mike in an outhouse and kills him. After they escape, a very distraught Kid confesses he had never killed anyone before, and renounces the gunfighter lifestyle. When Little Sue (Frederick) meets the two men to give them the reward, they learn that Logan was captured by Little Bill’s men and tortured to death, but not before giving up the identities of his two accomplices. The Kid heads back to Kansas to deliver the reward money to Munny and Logan’s families, while Munny drinks half a bottle of whisky and heads into town to take revenge on Bill.
That night, Logan’s corpse is displayed in a coffin outside the saloon. Inside, Little Bill has assembled a posse to pursue Munny and the Kid. Munny walks in alone and promptly demands to know whom is the owner of the establishment brandishing a double-barrel shotgun. Skinny Dubois (James), the saloon owner and pimp steps forward in an attempt to dissuade Munny, who in response guns him down, stating in response to a comment from Bill “Well he shoulda armed himself if he was gonna decorate his saloon with my friend”. After some tense dialogue, a gunfight ensues, leaving Bill wounded and apparently dead and several of his deputies dead. Munny orders everyone out before a moment later stopping Little Bill from trying to shoot him in the back with his drawn pistol. Bill complains about not deserving to die and curses Munny saying he’ll see him in hell. Munny says “Deserves got nothing to do with it…” and with a simple Yea’ Munny finishes him with a final rifle-shot to the head. Munny then threatens the townsfolk in the rain before finally leaving town, warning that he will return if Logan is not buried properly or if any prostitutes are further harmed. If he finds out that someone has, he will return and kill them, their entire family and friends. Then rides off into the rain to go back home to his children.
Eastwood attempts here to make his character more appealing by having him ride a mangy old horse that repeatedly dumps him. It almost works. This is a dark, almost sacrilegious descent into the sleazy underbelly of Western Movie culture, and it’s delicious. Steady direction by Eastwood and a cast that seems to be swapping
bad guy one-upsmanship throughout the film. The tired old killers, game for a comeback (Eastwood and Freeman). English Bob, the sadistic British gunslinger (Harris). The corrupt Sheriff, Little Bill (Hackman). English Bob’s biographer W. W. Beauchamp (Rubinek). The insecure Kid, out to get that first notch on his gun (Woolvett). Quick Mike and Davey Boy, two nasty drunken cowpokes who disfigure a Hooker with a knife when Quick Mike can’t get it up (Muuci and Campbell). Bad guys all, in the town of Big Whiskey. The only let up from nastiness is the Madam of the local Brothel, Strawberry Alice, and the disfigured prostitute with a heart of gold, Delilah, who offers “free ones” to cowboys she likes.
Darkly and beautifully shot by Jack Green, a nice musical score by Lenny Niehaus, and crisp pacing by editor Joel Cox. Dark and unseemly doings in the town of Big Whiskey.
© 2013 Shaun Costello
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 10,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.
By Shaun Costello
Somewhere along the way, the National Rifle Association, which is nothing more than a lobbying entity representing the firearms industry, has positioned itself as an organization dedicated to preserving the freedoms of each and every American citizen. This extraordinary advertising coup was achieved by enlisting Hollywood actors like Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston to espouse
the importance of the firearm as an integral element in America’s history, and in every American’s heritage. America’s freedom from the tyranny of British rule was achieved by means of the gun, claims the NRA, therefore freedom itself, the birthright of every American, can only be maintained by the gun. Early on, the NRA ingratiated itself with alleged patriotic organizations like the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and any and every right wing political entity they could penetrate. Over the years, with careful image control, and effective
advertising, the NRA has positioned itself as the protector of America’s Freedom, and an integral element in the maintenance of democratic rule, as created by America’s founding fathers. The objective of this image campaign was to equate the NRA with all things patriotic, so that the average American would think of the NRA, right up there with the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, The Boston Tea Party, George Washington, the flag, and Mom’s apple pie.
And it worked. Now that the NRA, which in reality was simply a lobby group for a multi-billion dollar industry, had woven its way into the fabric of patriotic America’s tapestry, its next move was to begin donating to key political campaigns, creating a network of obligated politicians across the country who would vote pro-gun, regardless of their prior, or actual beliefs.
The word was out now for every elected official, regardless of political affiliation. Want to keep your job? Vote pro-gun.
With political power in their grasp, the NRA would control all legislation that might effect or regulate the firearms industry, which has annual revenues exceeding eleven billion dollars. Through fear tactics, and the patriotic bully pulpit, the NRA’s base expanded, and their power became unchallengeable. But suddenly, America woke up. The recent tragic events in Newtown Connecticut have changed everything. A deranged kid with his mother’s legally bought, .223 Caliber military assault rifle, slaughtered 20 little children in their classrooms, 6 teachers who died protecting their kids, his mother, and finally himself. A catastrophe of such
magnitude that America has been shocked into a reality that might finally put a stop to unregulated manufacture and sale of assault weapons, and the NRA’s strangle hold on the political machinery that allowed those weapons to find their way into the hands of killers.
After a week’s silence, Wayne LaPierre, the President of the NRA, called a news conference this afternoon, finally expressing the NRA’s response to the tragedy in Newtown. His words were shocking, but not surprising. In keeping with the NRA’s policy of ever-expanding gun sales, LaPierre suggested arming teachers and school administrators. Mr. LaPierre stood there at the microphone and said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” So, the NRA-supported firearms industry will supply both the good guys and the bad guys with more guns, and they can shoot it out.
Not this time. America seems finally to have awakened to the NRA’s charade of patriotic hyperbole and congressional manipulation. Twenty kids are dead. Enough. The President seems to have awakened as well, and even some Republican Congressmen are beginning to understand the need for more stringent gun regulation. Will it happen? I hope so. Will Americans finally understand that the Second Amendment, which the NRA successfully tattooed on the American psyche as giving anyone the right to unlimited and unregulated gun ownership, is an archaic instrument, used by the paranoid to assuage their fears and insecurities? I can only hope.
The NRA is not what it claims to be. They’re the playground bully, threatening the weaker kids and stealing their lunch money. Once America begins to understand this simple fact, and politicians stop cowering in fear that their re-election funding will dry up, maybe we’ll stop shooting each other. After all, no playground bully is anywhere near as tough as he thinks. He’s only what you believe he is. Nothing more.
© 2012 Shaun Costello
“Mommy, Santa’s asleep on the kitchen floor”
By Shaun Costello
Christmas in the Forest Hills Gardens was my favorite time of year. A great deal of attention was paid by Gardens residents to make sure that the little hamlet was as adorable as was intended by the designers who created it. The
Gardens Corporation spent a hefty portion of its annual budget making sure that every lamp post, every pine and spruce, even the stop signs were appropriately adorned and decorated to say “Merry Christmas” to each and every passer by. There was a full scale Nativity Scene with a stable, and life size statues of the participants, as well as enormous stuffed sheep and goats. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the older kids would rearrange the juxtaposition of the scene’s characters to suggest that the Magi were doing something unnatural
with the sheep, but the following morning the Gardens Corporation’s handyman would put things right, and Yuletide spirit would resume, uninterrupted.
The houses were elaborately decorated with lights, and wreaths, and holly, with candles in the windows, and Santa’s sleds on the rooftops. There was a team of judges who traveled about the community, making notes on the quality of decorations, and a prize was awarded to the best dressed home on Christmas night right in the middle of Station Square, the epicenter of the community. There was a rumor, that the judges could be bribed with martinis, so the validity of the prize was in always in question.
On Christmas Eve the grown ups had lots of parties, and the Gardens Corporation kept track of where they were so that a list of addresses could be given to the Gardens Carolers, who would sing their versions of “Silent Night”, and “We Three Kings of Orient Are”, at each and every gathering, after which they would be rewarded with drams of eggnog and cognac and thus fortified, move on to the next venue. The streets in the little hamlet were crowded with revelers, drinks in hand, arm in arm, singing and laughing, as they staggered from party to party, hell bent on the proper celebration of the birth of the Christ child. Enormous consumption of alcohol seemed to be an integral element in the festivities.
Each Christmas Eve the Gardens Corporation “conscripted” a group of Santa’s from among the Gardens’ teenage population. They were dressed in Santa outfits, given a list of addresses complete with the names of the children in residence, and a bag of gifts, one for each child on the list. This event was enormously popular with the children of the community, who got a visit from their very own Santa, who handed them a gift with their very own name on it. On this particular Christmas, my friend Bill Beggs’ older brother Jack was to take his first tour as Santa, and Bill’s friends, me included, went over to the Beggs’
house to give Jack pointers on his Santa performance, and tease him as much as he would allow. Jack Beggs was an unassuming, engaging, friendly kid and Bill’s friends all liked him. He was the only teenager in the community who treated us like humans.
There was a tradition at the Gardens Corporation office on every Christmas Eve, that involved giving each Santa a shot of brandy to ward off the cold, along with a Merry Christmas toast before the eager team of teenage Santa’s began their rounds of gift giving. Jack was fourteen, and had never had a shot of brandy before, but the fiery liquid was a welcome fortification against the cold, not to mention his nervousness at the possibility of giving the wrong presents to children whose names he might forget. Properly imbibed, Jack began his rounds.
Mr. and Mrs. Beggs were out doing the party circuit, so Bill answered the phone when it rang about two hours later. “Look Beggs, this is Al Relyea down at the Gardens office. I just got an angry phone call from Doctor Fallon. I guess you know that your son Jack is a Santa this year. Anyway, he evidently got his hands on a bottle of hooch, and got himself plastered. He passed out on Fallon’s kitchen floor and threw up all over the place. The Doc’s kids are hysterical, and he’s threatening to sue the Gardens Corporation for something called “loss of innocence”, unless we get young Jack out of his house right away. Say, how old is Jack now, fourteen? I guess he got an early start. Hair of the dog, eh John? Look Beggs, you’ve got to help me here. Go over and get your son out of there”. A stunned Bill Beggs, lowering his voice as far as it would go said, “Right away’, and hung up.
Not knowing what to do, and realizing that if his parents found out, Jack would be on house arrest until his 65th birthday, Bill called me. Jack was simply too big for the two of us to handle, so we enlisted the help of the Bullock twins, and Chipps Page, who were delighted to be able to witness the sight of Jack in his Santa suit, unconscious on the Fallon’s kitchen floor, and they met us outside the Doctor’s house.
When we knocked on the Front door we were confronted with an angry Doctor Fallon, who challenged Bill with, ‘Where’s your father, mister?” We explained to the Doctor that Mr. and Mrs. Beggs were out, so the five of us would get Jack out of his house and take him home. Santa was still out cold on the kitchen floor, his beard all askew, and Mrs. Fallon was busy cleaning up the remains of the dinner that Mrs. Claus must had made for him before he began his trip from the North Pole, and that he had thrown up all over the Fallon’s floor. Jack was dead weight and it took all the strength we could muster to get him out of there and back home.
Here’s what had happened. It seems that there’s one more tradition in the local Christmas lore that Jack was unaware of. Each time Santa makes a visit he is rewarded by the grateful family on which he has bestowed his gifts, usually in the form of what local grown ups referred to as a “blast”. This consisted of a strong eggnog, or a shot of Cognac. The Fallon’s were Jack’s tenth and last family, which meant that fourteen year old Jack Beggs, whose first taste of alcohol was the Christmas Toast earlier that evening at the Gardens office, had consumed five eggnogs and four Cognacs before he knocked, with great difficulty, on the Doctor’s door. He had somehow lost his
hat, and was wearing his beard sideways as he staggered into the Fallon’s living room. Poor Jack was sick for a few days, and his parents actually did find out about his mischief, but drunkenness in the Forest Hills Gardens was a forgivable sin, not only condoned, but encouraged, even in children. Young Jack became a folk hero in the eyes of the local grown ups, who were sometimes referred to by their children as, the “unquenchables”. His father was greeted by friends with, “Chip off the old block, huh John?” His heroic performance had added stature to Jack’s reputation in the community, and I wondered how long it would be before his dad greeted him one evening with, “Hey son, how about a blast?”
© 2010 Shaun Costello
by Shaun Costello
In the dead of Winter, in either 1990 or 1991, I was returning from a long shooting day, along with my assistant and sound recordist. I don’t remember which project it was because those were halcyon days for me, and I was booked solid. We were tired and cranky. It was cold. Snow was on the ground. It was late –must have been after 10PM, and we had been working since early that morning. I was using the off-line
editing system in a friend’s apartment in Manhattan’s West Eighties,
to cut the project, and we were returning our equipment to his
editing room. We were standing on the lobby floor, waiting for the
elevator. The door opened, and we lugged our equipment cases into the small cubicle and turned to face the front. My camera was visible because I seldom put it in its case. Before the door closed, an old man, bundled up with too many clothes against the cold, got in with us. He looked like a kid whose mother had dressed him for a snowball fight – his arms, covered with too many layers to quite fall to his sides, stuck out a bit. He wore one of those winter hats that people in places like Minnesota put on their heads, the kind with ear flaps that tie under your chin. The flaps were untied and stuck straight out at right angles from his ears. His thick, black-framed glasses were still frosted over from the heat inside the building. This was about as dorky a guy as you’re going to run into, and considering the late hour, and state of exhaustion, I was not ready for conversation.
The elevator door closed, but instead of turning to face the front of the car, the old man in the snow suit just stood there looking at us. He was grinning. ”You guys out shooting in the cold? Must have been an important gig to keep you out until this hour, in this kind of cold. Something big, huh?” On the streets of Manhattan, a film crew is often approached by gawkers and passers bye, looking to make a negative assertion, saying something stupid, going for the cheap shot, something you get used to and try to ignore. But we were trapped
inside the elevator with Mr. Dorky, who was just about impossible to avoid. I could probably attempt to excuse my behavior that night by reminding you, dear reader, of how tired I was – but there’s no excuse for being that big a jerk. “We’ll shoot anything”, I answered, “Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, no job’s too small, and as you can see, weather’s no object.” Was it my intention to belittle the man in the snow suit, to treat him with condescension and one-upsmanship? To show him just who he was dealing with here, late at night in the confines of that elevator? I’m a film director, you dork. How dare you speak to me.
His expression never changed. He just kept grinning, impervious to the pompous condescension I had dumped all over him. I can still remember his grin, framed by those those ear flaps. As the elevator came to a stop at his floor, still grinning he said, “It’s Tuesday. There are no Bar Mitvahs on Tuesdays. Night, boys.” And off he went, having won the bout with my surly personage by knockout.
As the elevator ascended to our floor, I couldn’t get the “Mr. Dorky” image out of my head. There was something about this guy – something strangely familiar. The door opened on the eighth floor and it fell on me like a ton of bricks, as I realized who the guy was. I turned to my assistant. “Do you know who that was?”, I asked. He just said, “Yeah”, and kept moving our equipment cases out of the elevator. “Do you know what kind of an asshole I was?”, I asked him. “Yeah”, he said again, grinning like Mr. Dorky, and turning the key in the apartment door. “Why didn’t you poke me, or something?” I was feeling deflated, like I had just behaved about as badly as a person can, regardless of my exhaustion, and pathetic need to exert my superiority over my fellow man. “You were too busy being a jerk”, my assistant told me, stacking cases in the editing room.
He was right. I was too busy being a jerk to notice that I had just treated one of this world’s true geniuses, and a personal hero of mine throughout my school years, one of this planet’s giants, with a combination of condescension and dismissal. The man had asked an honest question, and I, in my delusional need for one-upsmanship, tried to play King of the Elevator with a perfect stranger, whose only sin had been an engaging grin, and his refusal to take the bait. I felt such a fool. Such a guy. Such an asshole. A victim of my gender’s need to feel superior, even in an elevator.
And superior to whom? An old dorky guy in a snowsuit, who had the audacity to cross the line. To ask an honest question. To risk a moment of familiarity with a perfect stranger, with no motive other than simple curiosity. I’d like to say that I learned a lesson that night. That I woke up the next morning a better person, ready to take on the world. Able to slay the dragon. But none of that is true. I’m sure I awoke the next morning as big a jerk as I was the night before. Feeling impossibly crippled my own insecurity, and in awe of an old man in a snow suit, whose simple honesty had been so elegant. The old man, you see, was Dave Brubeck, who knew from personal experience that Bar Mitzvah’s were never held on Tuesdays. Rest in peace, Big Guy.
© 2012 Shaun Costello
I am now pretty old, and have had certain dreams that have repeated themselves, sometimes identically, and sometimes in varying forms, throughout my life. Though my memory is nowhere near perfect, I can recollect events in detail going back to early childhood. My earliest memory is of being bathed by my mother in what seemed like a large kitchen sink,
probably at the age of one, give or take. I have several visual recollections from that time, but one is quite puzzling, and I thought I would share it with you, along with a startling discovery about that memory, and the possibilities of cognitive recollections from a sensory amalgam of sources, as my brain developed. The first dream, that I remember, was at approximately the age of between eight and ten. (1952 – 1954) The visual images and music would repeat, in varying forms, on a regular basis, until a discovery in the winter of 2001. I can only be vague about the frequency and number of repetitions, but it seemed often, and in the hundreds. Over the years, I have tried to discern the reasons behind the repeated recollection, but could come to no conclusion that made sense – until 2001.
It seems like winter. I am bundled. I am low to the ground. I am not walking. I am being propelled somehow. Above me are two faces. They are women, wearing hats. The top half of their faces are covered by nets, the kind that were attached to women’s hats in the 1930’s and 1940’s. They are talking to each other, and sometimes to me, although I can not hear their voices. But I do hear music. I hear the song Alexander’s Ragtime Band, with lyrics clear and loud.
That’s it. Over the years I came to some obvious conclusions:
That the two women were my mother and her best friend.
That I was being pushed along, low to the ground, in a child’s stroller.
That I was less than a year old. (I began walking at the age of ten months)
The mystery was the music. It was always recognizable as Alexander’s Ragtime Band. At some point along the way I simply stopped attempting to discover why this combination of images and music repeated itself so often, and accepted it as a fated event, and a pleasant one at that.
For a reason I can’t possibly explain, in the winter of 2001, I decided to take a look, and I returned to the physical location that I had concluded must have been where this took place.
I was born in the Bronx NY, in 1944. We lived not far from Fordham University. My father was in the Army, serving in the Pacific. The main shopping thoroughfare in our neighborhood was a boulevard called the Grand Concourse. To reach this venue from where we lived, you would have to walk up Fordham Road, about ten blocks or so up a gradual incline. My guess was, that my mother probably spent more time pushing me in a stroller along Fordham Road than any other street. I must have had some time on my hands that day in 2001, so off I went, searching for my early childhood.
Oddly enough, other than demographically, the neighborhood had not changed that much. The buildings that stood, back in the 1940’s, were still there, but of course housed different tenants and businesses. I walked East past Fordham University, and began the slight climb, up toward the Concourse, which was ten blocks away, at the top of the hill. The physicality of the street seemed correct, in terms of possibly being the location of my recollections. After walking about three blocks, I stopped to get my bearings, and see the bigger picture. It was here that I saw it.
At the very top of the hill, some six or seven blocks away, was a large brick building, distinguished from the surrounding architecture only by its larger size. Along the top of the building were five letters, ALEXA, very faded, probably painted many years ago. As I got closer, I realized that these letters were not a word, but part of a word. After the second A, the building had been painted another color, covering the last letters in the name. Then suddenly, I understood. The building at the top of the hill had been the original ALEXANDERS DEPARTMENT STORE, a popular neighborhood shopping venue in 1945, but only the first five letters of the name were still there, albeit just barely.
I guess you can see where this is headed, and it’s a fascinating possibility. Could the curious eyes of a child, less that a year old, have absorbed everything around him, storing different bits of data in separate parts of the brain, and have recollections of that data appear as memory, as the brain was able to decipher the information according to that brain’s cognitive evolution? That day, in that stroller, pushed along by those two women, could I have seen the ALEXANDERS sign as an image that could not possibly have any meaning until I learned to read? The sign would have been background to the closer, more vivid images of the two women, so the meaning of the letters would have no significance, until the brain was able to process the data and make the connection. The song Alexander’s Ragtime Band was popular at the time the images were imprinted. Could my brain have connected the song with stored image of the sign after I learned to spell, and scored the reoccurring dream with the song? The dreams began just after I learned to read. This was a genuine moment of discovery for me, and after that afternoon in 2001, I never had the dream again. A delicious conundrum.
© 2012 Shaun Costello
9/11 CONNECTION WIDELY IGNORED
IN U.S. EMBASSY ATTACKS
Yesterday, September 11, 2012, the eleventh anniversary of the Al Qaida attacks on the World trade center, the US Embassy in Cairo, and our Consulate in Benghazi, Libya came under attack. The American Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three
Embassy staffers were killed while attempting to evacuate the Consulate in Benghazi. Both attacks were allegedly attributed to the release of the trailer for a film made by an Israeli Jew, living in California, which depicts Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light.
Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered death threats in Denmark and riots in many Muslim countries.
In the late 1990’s, after the publication of Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the mad Mullahs of Iran sentenced Rushdie to death for his literary efforts, encouraging assassination squads to hunt the author down and take their lethal Islamic vengeance. Of course, none of the Mullahs who were after Rushdie’s blood, had read Rushdie’s book. Soon after the death sentence was handed down, I sat next to Rushdie in an East Hampton restaurant, and must admit to being a bit apprehensive during dinner.
A 14-minute trailer of the movie that sparked yesterday’s protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
The website’s guidelines call for removing videos that include a threat of violence, but not those that only express opinions. YouTube’s practice is not to comment on specific videos.
Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew and who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, “Innocence of Muslims,” said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.
Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding Tuesday, remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
Bacile said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world. “Islam is a cancer, period,” he repeatedly said in a solemn, accented tone.
It should surprise no one that Sam Bacile is an alias. The film’s director turns out to be neither an Israeli nor a Jew. His name is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, and he is a Coptic Christian. Nakoula remains in hiding, and has assigned the job of promoting the bizarre project to a Mr. Steve Klein, a failed California real estate developer and Vietnam Veteran, whose name has been connected to several organizations that could be described as hate groups. Mr. Klein’s hate-focus seems centered on Islam.
These attacks happened on 9/11, folks. Does anyone really think it was a coincidence? And why weren’t our embassies in the Middle East on heightened alert? Isn’t the CIA supposed to alert the NSA before events like this take place? Was someone asleep at the
switch? If we can’t protect our embassies, we can’t justify having them. The Islamists become more intolerable with every passing day. And it’s not just Islam against the USA, it’s Islam against the world. This would not have happened if Ghadafi and Mubarak were still in power. What does that tell us? It’s horrible to contemplate, but maybe these countries are better off with dictators, who keep the insanity of the Islamists in check. The Arab Spring might just wind up being the beginning of a whole new era of Islamist Madness. Oh, and Iran is building a bomb. Iran the greatest exporter of terrorism on the planet will soon be able to distribute nuclear devices to its world-wide terror cells. Maybe Israel is right. This is all heading in a really bad direction.
Oddly, the press coverage of the Cairo and Benghazi attacks is making no connection to the date on which they occurred. The anti-Semites are claiming that it’s all the fault of the Jews. The extreme pacifists are claiming that retribution for American drone strikes justifies the killing of the Americans, even though those drone attacks are taking place thousands of miles away. The Arab Street is out chanting away, clamoring for death to those who insult Islam. But few, if any, journalists are connecting the date of these attacks to the infamous World Trade Center attacks of eleven years ago. I wonder why.
© 2012 Shaun Costello
WGCU, a mismanaged National Public Radio affiliate, broadcasting in the Southwest Florida area, is attempting to extort surcharges from its listeners for programming carried for free by other affiliates.
Some background, according to Wikipedia:
WGCU-FM (90.1 FM) is an NPR-member radio station. Licensed to Fort Myers, Florida, USA, the station is owned by Florida Gulf Coast University.
WGCU’s schedule consists of jazz and NPR news and talk. WGCU-FM’s programming is simulcast on ‘WMKO FM 91.7, a full-time station licensed to Marco Island to serve the Naples area.
WGCU-FM first signed on in 1983 as WSFP-FM, a station owned by the University of South Florida in Tampa, owners of public broadcasting stations WUSF FM and TV. At the time, Fort Myers / Naples was the only media market in Florida without any public broadcasting stations. WSFP-FM was largely a rebroadcast of WUSF-FM.
The broadcast license was transferred to the new Florida Gulf Coast University in 1996, while the finishing touches were being put on Florida’s newest university. WSFP-FM changed its calls to WGCU-FM on June 13, 1997, two months before FGCU opened.
Broadcasting from its transmitter site in southern Charlotte County, WGCU-FM’s signal is barely listenable in Naples, though its grade-B signal reaches much of northern Collier County. Soon after FGCU opened, it requested funding for a second station to serve the Naples area. WMKO signed on for the first time in 1999.
In 2009, WGCU moved its classical music programming to a 24/7 feed on its digital sub-channel.
WGCU is also referenced for hurricane information on signs across southwest Florida.
Long notorious for not making projected quotas on fund raising pledge drives, and short of funds because of consistent mismanagement, WGCU announced several weeks ago that it would drop the weekly broadcast of NPR’s long-running, hit show A Prairie Home Companion. This announcement came as a
shock to the thousands of local fans of one of NPR’s most popular shows. The reason given by WGCU’s management was that the station could no longer afford the program that the rest of America enjoys on a weekly basis. Shortly after WGCU announced this cancellation, a series of WGCU-produced promos began, suggesting that WGCU would bring back A Prairie Home Companion if listeners, many of whom are already contributing members of the station, pay a surcharge for the program. When the Mafia does this kind of thing it’s called extortion. Asking listeners to pay additional money, something no other NPR affiliate has ever done, because of consistently bungled mismanagement of the station is outrageous. Since WGCU is owned by Florida Gulf Coast University, it becomes the responsibility of that University to investigate the mismanagement of its broadcast entity.
WGCU’s General Manager Rick Johnson, whose attitude toward anyone who questions his policies might best be described as arrogant and smug, claimed to be shocked that Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed more than four million dollars in funding for Public Broadcasting. But Scott’s veto, devastating as it might be, does not explain WGCU’s mishandling of its budgetary responsibilities. Nor does it explain the boondoggle surrounding the attempt by the station to extort additional funding from its listening members to bring back programming that WGCU management has cancelled because they claim it is not affordable by the station. Just where has all the money from all the pledge drives gone? I, for one, would like to know. If Rick Johnson’s management team is responsible for mismanagement of the station, they should be replaced by a staff more answerable to their listeners and supporters. The number of experienced broadcast personnel now unemployed by a shrinking economy should easily provide replacements.
GINGRICH “SPONGE BOB” RANT ANGERS PARENTS. MIGHT COST HIM NOMINATION.
ASSOCIATED PRESS December 4th During a news conference today, Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich stunned reporters with an angry outburst aimed at the hugely popular children’s animated TV program, SpongeBob Square Pants. Taking questions, after making a speech before the Florida Businessmen’s Alliance in Tampa Florida today, the former Speaker of the House was asked whether he was aware of recent tweets suggesting his physical similarity to the beloved animated character, SpongeBob Square Pants. An angered Gingrich rebuked his questioner, “I know of no such suggestions, and if I did know any such suggestions, this is hardly the time or place to address them. This is just another example of the liberal press attempting to smear a Presidential candidate by comparing him to a ridiculous, and I might add, dangerous animated character in what is alleged to be a children’s TV series.” When asked what he meant by dangerous, Mr. Gingrich replied, “SpongeBob Square Pants is a subversive, and suggestive piece of socialist propaganda, aimed at convincing innocent children that sea sponges, and other creatures live harmoniously beneath the world’s oceans, in a world of happiness and tranquility, far removed from the contentious realities of everyday life. A child growing up being fed that kind of hogwash will have no chance whatsoever of successfully dealing with the harsh realities that confront today’s adults”. Asked what he meant by the show being suggestive, the former Speaker said, “The Square Pants family, and all of the other silly anthropomorphic anomalies in this show live in the fictional undersea town of Bikini Bottom. Need I say more? I think we all know what’s in a bikini bottom gentlemen, and that’s not the kind of place where the innocent minds of children need to dwell.”
Mr. Gingrich, who in recent weeks has spoken out about fixing school budgets by firing the janitorial staff and giving mops and brooms to the kids themselves, and institutionalizing the children of welfare families by placing them in orphanages, did not waver in his tough-love approach to education. “You can bet that the funding for socialist propaganda like SpongeBob, is deeply rooted in the National Endowment for the Arts, which has, as studies have shown, a Marxist/Leninist agenda.” Mr. Gingrich refused to take any further questions, and left the podium. Calls to the Gingrich for President campaign headquarters, attempting to confirm today’s comments, have gone unanswered.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
A BRONX TALE
A couple of kids from the Bronx dance their way through the depression.
by Shaun Costello
My mother and Uncle Tommy were born in the Jewish/Irish Tremont section of the Bronx – Tommy in 1917, and his younger sister Catherine, two years later. Their parents, Nan, and Black Jack Dowling made a living of sorts on the Vaudeville stage as a dance act. But New York was where you played once you had made a name for yourself, and the Dancing Dowlings were far from being headliners. So, once my mother was old enough to walk, they picked up stakes and headed for Norfolk Virginia, a hub in the Southern Vaudeville circuit, where, shamelessly billing themselves as New York’s dancing sensations, it would be easier to get bookings. Norfolk was the venue of choice for another reason as well – it was home port to one of the United States Navy’s largest installations, employing over seventy five thousand Naval personnel, many of whom, when pay day rolled around, wasted no time losing
their hard-earned pay in the myriad of floating crap games and poker sessions that so often seemed to find men in uniform, whenever they had money in their pockets. My grandfather, Black Jack Dowling, when not booked to entertain Vaudeville audiences with his dancing feet, was more than happy to swindle recently paid sailors out of their cash with his practiced slight of hand. Wearing a stolen sailor suit, my grandfather, a predator with portfolio, armed with marked cards and loaded dice, rode the trains into and out of Norfolk, systematically separating the sailors from their pay, often just one step ahead of the local Sherriff, and occasionally that Sherriff’s guest in the local jail house.
Trained by their parents in the art of stage craft, Tom and Sis, now incorporated into The Dancing Dowlings, dazzled all who saw them with their high stepping and showmanship – they were naturals. With the kids carrying the show, the family act seemed to stay booked, and performed throughout the Southern Vaudeville Circuit on playbills with Fanny Brice, Buck and Bubbles, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, and just about everyone who toured back then. But success couldn’t keep a card sharp like my grandfather out of regular incarceration for his nefarious railroad hijinks, and his absences became more frequent, until finally, he disappeared altogether. The act, unbookable without its patriarch, made the journey back to the Bronx, in search of employment for my grandmother, and education for her kids.
While still in High School, Tom and Sis continued to do what they did best, and they danced and danced, until people began to take notice. They starred in school productions, and spent all their spare time at a famous Bronx jazz club called the Club Fordham, where they entertained the musicians by improvising dance routines to any kind of music. Though not employed by The Club Fordham, they were encouraged by the
club’s owner Maurice Reidy, and performed their dance routines until they became crowd favorites. There was a buzz about them now – who were these kids? Reporters began to make the trek up to the Bronx, to watch, and to write about those kids at the Club Fordham. Photo shoots for magazines followed – ‘how to’
spreads with Tom and Sis demonstrating the latest dance craze for a dance-crazy generation of readers. Using the photographs from one of these sessions, the editorial staff at Ladies Home Journal hired an illustrator to create a likeness of ‘the kids’ for the cover of the August 1938 edition. So there they were, Tom and Sis Dowling, a couple of depression era Bronx kids, right there on the cover of a national magazine, doing their thing.
Within a year they had made the seamless transition from The Club Fordham, to Manhattan’s Stork Club, where they became favorites
of the owner, Walter Winchell, who both promoted and protected them. Now, this was the era of the ‘Big Bands’, and band leaders often hired dancers to demonstrate the latest dance trends to their music, for an ever-eager public. Winchell had mentioned Tom and Sis to his friend Horace Heidt, one of the era’s biggest band leaders, and, after seeing them dance up a storm at the Stork Club, Heidt offered them a contract to perform with his band, “Horace Heidt’s Musical Knights”, one of the
biggest bands of that decade. The gig with Heidt was followed by
gainful employment, dancing with Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra, and Benny Goodman, as well. So now ‘the kids’ were getting paid to do what, until then, they had done for free.
In between performances with big bands, they would return to the Stork Club, where they had become audience favorites, until that fateful night in 1939, when Darryl Zanuck and Bill Goetz happened to see them dance, and
offered Tom and Sis an invitation to come to Hollywood as contract players for Twentieth Century Fox. Their Bronx days behind them, ‘the kids’, cheered on by the gang from the Club Fordham, boarded the train for Hollywood, and the next chapter of their lives.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
ATONE – YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU DID
GOYBOY SHABBOS GOY SERVICE opens its doors and lends a helping hand on this day of atonement. All of our helpers are certified graduates of the GOYBOY Shabbos Goy Academy.
YOM KIPPUR IS UPON US, and, once again, it’s time to atone. Remember, the J-God is a cantankerous, and vengeful God, and he knows where you live. Use your toaster, and expect a lightning strike. Play it safe – call for GOYBOY.
AMERICA – YOU’RE GETTING MACED, YOU’RE GETTING HOSED, AND YOU’RE GETTING NOWHERE!
Thanks to our extraordinarily right of center Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year, Americans have no shot whatsoever at campaign reform in the next decade. Publically funded elections? Sure, a nice idea. Go tell it to the Supremes. Not only is Congress in bed with the corporate colossus, but the Federal Bench climbed in, as well. And that bed is getting pretty crowded. Comparing these Wall Street demonstrations, as many have done, to Vietnam era unrest is not only naive, but patently untrue. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and making Congress accountable, thousands of well intentioned, albeit naively so, Americans are camped out in tent cities in urban parks, participating in a preposterous re-enactment of Woodstock. Young people are being maced, while the Wall Street brokerage community spends weekends sipping pina colada’s at their beach houses in the Hamptons. The individual citizen has NO capability to impact the Banking Community, but we DO have the power to hold Congress, which sanctions the Banking Community, accountable, if only Americans could understand that and act on it. The source of America’s plight is the malignant curruption in Washington. Do you know your Senator’s voting record for the last year? I’ll bet you don’t, even though that voting record is readily available over the internet. I guarantee you that that voting record will surprise you. Even the ‘good guys’ in Congress vote against the welfare of their constituents from time to time, because that’s how the system functions. That’s how deals are made. That’s how corrupt the system is.
HOLDING CONGRESS ACCOUNTABLE! Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Nowhere near as entertaining as holding signs,
shouting protest rhetoric, getting maced, singing folk songs, squatting in urban Tent Cities, and experiencing a sense of communal righteousness in the re-enactment of the political upheaval of a long-gone era. And what exactly do these protesters think will come of their exhausting, and well-intentioned efforts? Do they actually think that, way up there in the air conditioned forty third floor offices of Goldman Sachs, brokerage executives are looking down at the spirited upheaval of sign-waving demonstrators, and having second thoughts? Do you really think that the CEO of Goldman is calling the CEO of Bank of America to tell him, “You know Brian, maybe these people are right? Maybe we should clean up our act. Change the way we do business”. Do you really think that’s happening? Yeah, right. That phone call will be made on one condition, and one condition only – that Congress finally listens to the American electorate, and votes to sanction the Banking Industry into compliance with the law. Then, and only then, will America find its economic balance again. So, it’s up to you, people. You’re getting maced, and you’re getting hosed, and you’re getting nowhere. It all starts on the Hill – with Congress, You people voted those people into office.
Don’t you think it’s about time you held them accountable?
© 2011 Shaun Costello
MAKE GOVERNMENT WORK
It can be an instrument of good. It can’t be ignored. It can’t be replaced.
Do the work. Make it work!
I truly believe that, when all is said and done, these Wall Street protests will prove fruitless. Also, it’s the lazy way out. Do you want to see change? Do you want to make a difference? Do you want to clean up Wall Street? Then hold your elected representatives accountable. Pay attention to what is going on in both houses of Congress. And I mean every vote that Congress makes. The majority in both houses is re-elected, on a regular basis, with the helping hand of corporate America. The Banking Lobby. The Tobacco Lobby. The Oil Lobby. The Mining Lobby. Big Pharma. They fund the Congressional campaigns of these clowns, and when an important vote happens, they want payback – and they get it, at the expense of the American consumer, and the American taxpayer. General Electric pays less in tax than the average fire fighter in your home town. That ought to piss you off. America isn’t easy.
Stop making useless noise. Get up off your ass. Roll up your sleeves. Put in the time. Pay attention to what is going on in Washington. These idiots work for you – or have you forgotten? Morons put flags on their cars, and think they’re patriots. They’re just lazy. Do you want to practice good citizenship? Then make sure you are registered to vote, and when Election Day rolls around, know the issues. Find a candidate whose goals and values resemble your own, and vote for him/her. Then make damn sure that every campaign promise made is kept. And if not, then never vote for that person again. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then, why are Americans letting this mess continue? For God’s sake, people – HOLD CONGRESS ACCOUNTABLE – AND I MEAN BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
© 2011 Shaun Costello
ASSOCIATED PRESS September 26, 2011 In a shocking revelation today, former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs dropped an emotionally charged bombshell on the already fractured landscape of Republican politics. In a sometimes tearful recounting of his four year affair with Right Wing Barbie Doll Ann Coulter, which evidently began during the Iowa Caucus in 2007, and ended at that same political venue four years later, Dobbs went into great detail about his fatal attraction for Coulter’s bellicose beauty, and the eventual, and inevitable break-up that occurred in Des Moines last month. “When I found out the truth”, said Dobbs, “I tried to stay the course. I mean, I loved this woman, or whatever she turned out to be. I knew I couldn’t go on without her. But there is only so far a man can go when confronted with circumstances beyond the pale of any acceptable form of human behavior. When I found out the truth, I was devastated”.
Dobbs recounted the early blissful days of their affair. “Love sometimes makes you blind. I knew there was something different about Ann, that she was not quite normal, but I let it go. Then that night in Wilkes Barre, well, that’s when Ann’s charade ended, and my world turned into a living nightmare”. Dobbs and Coulter were attending a fund raiser for then Senator Rick Santorum in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania in October of 2009. “We shared a room at the local Holiday Inn. I was awakened by an odd noise in the middle of the night. I instinctively reached for Ann, but she was not in bed. As I sat up, I noticed an intense light coming from under the bathroom door. As I approached the door, the sound grew louder – like a thousand voices speaking a hundred different languages all at once. Not speaking really, but kind of chanting. Chanting in a hundred languages, rhythmically, like some kind of pagan ritual. I quietly cracked open the door just a half inch or so, just enough to see inside. And that’s when I saw it. That’s when my life came crashing down around me”. Dobbs claimed that the bathroom was filled with smoke, and bright flashing lights. “And there she was, or it was, right there in those bright lights. It was Ann, and then it wasn’t Ann.
She kept changing shape, and shifting into different colors, and then it happened. Her head changed shape as the chanting grew louder, turning and changing until it was unmistakable. I stood there, frozen with shock and fear, but there it was, right on Ann’s unmistakable body – it was the head of J. Edgar Hoover. And his mouth was moving – the chanting sounds coming from somewhere inside. And then I heard a voice in the middle of all that babble. A voice singing in English, and the head started changing shape again, and the flashing lights like strobes in a disco became even brighter, and the song became recognizable. It was God BlessAmerica, and suddenly the head morphed into, it was horrible, and yet it was so familiar, and right there on Ann’s beautiful, slender body was the head of Kate Smith singing God BlessAmerica. And I was so horrified that I must have moved and somehow pushed the door open, and in a furious nanosecond of rearranged reality, the lights disappeared, and the chanting too, and the form in front of me changed shape rapidly right before my eyes, until all that was left was Ann. She was naked, and covered with sweat, and breathing heavily, like someone who had just run a marathon, and we just stood there, me in the doorway, and Ann in the center of the bathroom, and the only sound was Ann’s gasping for air”.
Boggs claims that Coulter revealed everything to him that night, at least everything she knew. She told him of her earliest memories, as a child-like form, without structured memory or familial connections, who was from another world, but she didn’t know where. She wound up in foster care and was then adopted, never revealing her true alien indentity to her new family. At a young age she had discovered that she had the ability to shape-shift during certain lunar cycles, and morph into those people she found heroic. She told Dobbs of her great loneliness, longing for someone to know the truth, and love her in spite of it. And then they met that night in 2009, at the Iowa Caucus.
“She wanted to tell me the truth, but she was afraid of my reaction. So that night in Wilkes Barre, I found out everything. But I loved the girl, so what could I do? I know this sounds crazy, but I decided to try and stick it out. I mean, she didn’t look like an alien most of the time. Just every so often she got all smarmy and noisy and morphed into her heroes. So what? Nobody’s perfect”.
According to Dobbs, her morphing habits changed abruptly about six months later, when she dissolved into Ronald Reagan during the act of sex. “I’ve never been so horrified in my life. I mean, there I am porking the woman I love, and right at the best part, I mean just when I’m about to come, she morphs into the great communicator, and Ronnie starts sticking his tongue in my mouth. Hey, there are limits, you know?” Coulter’s sexual changeling conflagrations became more frequent, yet somehow Dobbs managed to remain intrepid. “It was humiliating. Ann’s need to become her heroes now happened every time we had sex. One night I’m boinking Dwight Eisenhower, and the next night it’s Roy Cohn. And then the dressing-up and acting-out started. I’ve got to admit, Ann was pretty hot in black leather, but not when she turned into Richard Nixon, and made me crawl around on all fours on the floor and eat a can of Alpo while he told me how he had been unfairly crucified by an unfriendly press, most of whom were employed by the Kennedy’s. I guess I must have boffed just about Ann’s whole heroic line up: Joe McCarthy, Genghis Kahn, Ted Bundy, Donald Rumsfeld, Margaret Thatcher, Al Capone, Vlad the Impaler, Torquemada, Ma Barker, even Dubya, and each one with their own particular quirky sexual needs – boy, it was exhausting.”
Dobbs then talked about events at this year’s Iowa Caucus, events that would bring his extra-terrestrial love affair to a sad end. “And there we were, in Des Moines for this year’s caucus. In the same hotel where it all started four years ago. Seems like yesterday, but then again it doesn’t. I had just hung up on my editor, a little difference of opinion on my new book, “In God’s Way”, when Ann came out of the bathroom in some silky thing that clung to that luscious, tight body of hers like nobody’s business. Well, one thing led to another, and we were going at it hot and heavy, and all the while I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t turn into Mussolini’, but it keeps getting better and better, and Ann’s all worked up like she’s been stuck between floors for an hour in an elevator filled with Democrats, and I’m just about ready to unload when, all of a sudden Ann’s head starts growing and growing, and splitting in two, and I start hearing music and, low and behold, growing out of Ann Coulter’s delicious body are two heads in cowboy hats, singing, ‘Happy trails to you, until we meet again….’, and I realize that I am staring into the faces of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. And I’m still boinking away, as unfazed as possible, under the circumstances, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a horse whinnying. And old Roy looks me right in the eye and says, ‘Ok Lou boy, time to turn yourself around and make Trigger one happy Palomino.’ Well, that was just about all I could take. I loved this Coulter woman, or whatever she was, but I’d be damned if I’d give it up for Trigger”.
Dobbs claims that he got dressed, and stormed out of that hotel room, made a call to the AP, and arranged this Press Conference. “I wanted to get out my side of the story before Coulter made with the extraterrestrial machinations to the Press as these alien creatures will do. It’s weird story I know, but the God’s honest truth. Why, I’d stake my reputation on it”. Calls made to Ms. Coulter, as well as NASA were not returned. Both the Republican National Committee and Fox News refused comment.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
January 10, 2012 Associated Press. In Rome today, Cardinal Vincenzo Pantangelli, The Vatican’s Director of Information, made a startling announcement to the world’s gathered press. “Ina order to addressa the misconceptzione that homosexuale activity is conadoned ina the Holy Mother Churcha, and at the directa wishesa ofa Il Papa himself, I ama announcing a new polizia that willa take affecta froma this momento. We are calling thisa new polizia ‘NON CHIEDERE, NON CHIEDETE’. So any of you that hava any questiones, about a thisa sensitive subjecta, pleasa to remember, that any homosexuale activitiesa of any ordaineda personsa ina the Holy Mother Churcha comesa under thisa new polizia, ‘NON CHIEDERE, NON CHIEDETE’, Whicha translatesa in English asa ‘DON’T ASKA, DON’T ASKA’. Thatsa right, ‘DON’T ASKA, DON’T ASKA’. This only makes sensa, because for sure, ‘non abbiamo intenzione di dirvi merde’. Anda you can figure that outa for yourselvsa”. This announcement puzzled the correspondents gathered at the Vatican’s Press room, who were later informed by The Church’s translators that, “Non abbiamo intenzione di dirvi merde”, translates as, “We’re not going to tell you sh*t”. The American Ambassador to the Holy See refused comment.
Associated Press December 12, 2011 In an exclusive interview granted to Heywood Sargent of the Associated Press today, former Vice President Dick Cheney is pressed to respond to tough questions about his new book, his relationships with Former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice, the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his alleged suggestion to then President George Bush in 2006, that America should not rule out a full scale invasion of France.
Sargent…Mr. Vice President, in your new book, ‘In My Time’, you suggest great attitudinal differences that existed between the Bush White House and the State Department, under both Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. Could you elaborate?
Cheney…Attitudinal, huh? That’s a good one. You don’t mind if I tuck that away somewhere and use it later, do you? First of all, you’ve got to get this ‘Chain of Command’ thing straightened out. The President hires the Secretary of State. The President is the boss, and the Secretary is, well, not the boss. You follow me so far? First of all, the President would come to me, as his father instructed him to do, and he would say, “Vice?”, he always called me that, a term of endearment and respect, and also my title back then. “Vice”, he would say, “We’ve got to get this blame thing about Iraq worked out. I mean, if we’re going to incinerate their country, we’ve got to make it seem like it’s their fault, you see what I’m saying?” I told him we had Saddam dead to rights. He had the nukes, and he had the gas, and the rockets too, and we could prove it. And he said, “Look Vice, I talked with Colin this morning. He wants to go to the United Nations with this thing. Have them investigate. Get the goods on the towel heads. Then we’re in the clear – good to go – bombs away”. I explained to the President that we had a schedule to keep. We had to coordinate the vacation plans of several of our key Generals, and then, there’s The Masters. You can’t have a war going on when they’re playing The Masters. I mean, I’m a member down at Augusta National. I’ve got a locker with my name on it, and everything. If we were going to blow Iraq to smithereens, we had to adhere to a reasonable timetable, and the UN would take their dear sweet time with this thing. Look, you hire a Secretary of State, and of course you ask his advice. But you don’t want him getting creative on you. You want him to tell you one thing, and one thing only – what he thinks, you think, you want to hear. Not what he actually thinks. You get what I’m saying here? I mean, you look back at the Nixon White House. Boy, those were the days. Haldeman had scripts written for the Cabinet meetings, and he rehearsed them. Every Secretary of every Department in the Government had to know his lines. That’s my kind of White House. My kind of government.
Sargent…You criticized Condoleezza Rice for being President Bush’s lap-poodle. You also alluded to some connection between Secretary Rice and Muammar Gaddafi. You mentioned inappropriate gifts being exchanged. Given the recent discovery of Gaddafi’s Condi Shrine and suggestive photo album, could you expand on these statements?
Cheney…First of all, let’s set the record straight on this Condi Rice business. Secretary Rice is an outstanding and loyal American, and one of President Bush’s most important and historic appointments, being the first African American to ever hold that office.
Sargent…Mr. Vice President, Ms. Rice followed in the footsteps of Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, and of course, Colin Powell is also an African America.
Cheney…You’re kidding. Colin is colored? I always thought he was Armenian or something. You live and learn. About Condi, look, I don’t want the hired help getting creative, but Condi took condescension to a whole new level. I mean, the President would ask her, “Condi, I want your input on this ‘weapons of mass destruction’ business. Does this hummus-eater have ‘em, or what.” And her robotic response was, “Mr. President, on January 21st, you made a statement condemning Saddam Hussein for having huge stockpiles of fissionable material, with the intention to use it against America and her allies. I whole heartedly agree with that statement, Mr. President, and all other statements made by you on all matters foreign and domestic, during both your Presidency, and your tenure in Austin as governor of Texas. And also your statement to the New Haven police after your DUI arrest when you were a student at Yale, that your father covered up.” Look, I don’t want them getting creative, but Jesus.
Cheney…Oh, that. Well, let’s just say that the boys over at the NSA hear it all. Secretary Rice had made a diplomatic visit to Tripoli, which had to be extended for a few days, because Gaddafi evidently had the hots for her. There were some, well let’s call them inappropriate gifts exchanged. My favorite was the life sized, anatomically correct Colonel Gaddafi inflatable doll. What she did with it is anybody’s guess, but it was the subsequent phone calls that aroused interest at the NSA. I remember one call in particular. They played it back for me. I can remember it almost verbatim:
Gaddafi…Oh, my LeezaLeeza, My African Queen of the night, you must call me MooMoo, and in our love-tent we will make harmonious music together. Yes, MooMoo and his LeezaLeeza, in the harmony of the love motions. We make the music of the romance.
Rice…Listen Colonel, I like your outfits, but I draw the line at baby talk. Let’s just put on some Barry White, and get funky.
Well, you can imagine the NSA boys getting a kick out of this. I’ve got the tape around here somewhere.
Sargent…In your book, you mentioned the hunting accident, back on 2006, and you said you missed. What did you mean by that?
Cheney…That was on a quail hunt down in South Texas with Happy Harry Wittington. Hap was a contributor to my campaign. Always smiling and joking around. Real fun guy. Ever been around somebody who’s always smiling? It can get on you nerves, believe me. So I got to thinking – what if I put a couple of pellets in Hap’s behind? I bet that would wipe that smile off his face. So Hap’s about twenty feet ahead of me, and I yell, ”Over there, Hap. Over the trees” And when old Hap turned to shoot, I accidentally/on purpose unloaded in his direction. I meant to aim just to the left of him, so he’d just catch just a few pellets. Hell, everybody catches a few pellets in the behind, once in a while. But I stumbled, and the gun went off pointing right at the smiling son of a bitch. Wound up in intensive care. Jesus. I’ll tell you something though. I went to see him in the hospital. They had him all wired, on life support – lots of tubes. And there was old Hap, doing his Cheshire Cat thing. Quite a guy. He still contributes.
Cheney…I did see parts of it. It won some awards, didn’t it? Like Best Documentary, or something?
Sargent…Not exactly. It was a dramatization. The characters were played by actors. Your own roll was played by Richard Dreyfuss.
Cheney…Actors? Richard Dreyfuss? I don’t know what you’re talking about. The scenes I saw were all real. It was in the Oval Office. All of us were there: The President, Colin, Condi, Tenet, Rummy, and Carl Rove too.
Cheney…Actors? Now, wait just a minute here. I saw what I saw. It was us. I lived it. I saw it played back. That’s what happened. This some kind of journalistic trick? I wasn’t born yesterday, Mister. Besides, I’m better looking than Richard Dreyfuss.
Sargent…With the 2012 election just around the bend, could you size up the GOP’s candidates, and their chances. How about Michele Bachmann?
Cheney…Certainly. First off, let me say that the entire GOP field is made up of outstanding Americans, who understand the meaning of Capital Gain, and all that that entails. You won’t find a wuss in the bunch. Ms. Bachmann has an outstanding record in the House, and comes from a dairy state, which never hurts. But I’ll tell you, this homophobic thing she’s got happening is going to come back and bite her in the ass. So what if a guy’s light in the loafers. My daughter is an openly gay woman. Nothing wrong with that. Look, I’m not saying that I’m going to play the back nine at the Congressional with any homos, but they should have the same rights as the rest of us., or at least it should seem like it. And I’ll tell you one thing about your average homo that escapes Ms. Bachmann – he votes.
Cheney…Governor Romney did some fine things up there in Massachusetts. Good looking guy too, which never hurts with the female voters. He’d run America like a fine tuned corporation, and that’s the way it should be. But I just don’t know about this Mormon thing. I mean, this is America, where every man can realize his dream, but a Mormon in the White House? These people have polygamy on the brain. Did you ever read the Book of Mormon? If it were a movie, it would be a cross between The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Starman.
Cheney…Governor Perry’s got that Texan cow puncher spirit, I’ll tell you that. Americans respond to a man in boots and a Stetson. Evokes that pioneer spirit. A sense of toughness and independence. Conjures up images of John Wayne, even Ronald Reagan. Hell, Reagan took on the Soviet Union – face to face – mano a mano – And Mr. Gorbachev blinked and that wall came down. Yessir, never go one on one with a man in a fine set of boots. Of course, Governor Perry wears Tony Lama’s. They’re OK, I guess, but it’s a mass produced boot, the kind of thing you can pick up at Sears. A real Texan only wears a Lucchese boot. Made in San Antonio. Old world craftsmanship in every stitch. I’ve sent the Governor memo’s about this, but he’s still strutting around in those Tony Lama’s. Reagan wore only Lucchese, and look where it got him. And the American voter knows the difference, believe me.
Sargent…Mr. Vice President, are you saying that the outcome of the election can come down to the brand of boots a candidate wears?
Cheney…If the shoe fits.
Cheney…A fine American in every way. As Speaker of the House he took out a contract on America. Remember that? My kind of guy. That’s the way to run the country. Take no prisoners. But if a few stragglers do wind up in your camp, interrogate the hell out of them. That’s the way you find things out.
Cheney…Ms. Palin is a fine conservative, and an attractive woman. Sure, she had some minor glitches, like that bridge to nowhere, when she was Governor, up there in Alaska. And keeping an eye on the Russians, across the Bering Straight, from her office window. But she’s got this soccer mom thing happening, and that could bode well for her, come election time. But those names she gave her kids. Track? Bristol? Willow? Piper? Trig? What’s up with that? I mean, would it have killed her to name one of them Robert, or Delores, or Mary Sue – you know, names people can relate to. She might as well of named one of them Dump Truck for all the good it will do her at the polls. Sounds like a bunch of God damned hippies. Excuse my French.
Sargent…And speaking of France, you mentioned in the book that, back in 2006, you advised President Bush to not rule out a full scale invasion of France. Could you elaborate on that?
Cheney…Certainly. You know, 2006 was not a good year for us. Iraq was not working out the way we planned. The Taliban were making a comeback in Afghanistan. Secretary Rice was preoccupied, having a lurid affair with that towel-head fruitcake in Tripoli. Wall Street was in the throes of collapse. The American electorate was looking for someone to blame, and that’s never good when you’re in power. America needed a diversion, and I was all for giving it to them. It’s like, the television networks know how to do this. The scheduled programs show their last episode in the Spring. So now, the people have nothing to watch. What do the networks do? They present the Summer shows – something completely different, like a sitcom where a homo couple complete their odd family picture by adopting a chimpanzee. They could call it “Chumps”. I like that. And the viewers forget that their favorite shows won’t be back on until the Fall. That’s what I wanted to give the American voters – a Summer show. And I thought, why not invade France. Hell, they’re an arrogant bunch. Don’t agree with us on anything. We saved them from Hitler, and what thanks do we get? The French adoration of Jerry Lewis. France is a socialist country anyway, so why not invade them. And that means we could take prisoners and interrogate the bejesus out of them. And here’s the best part, we’ve done it before. We’d just do the Narmandie invasion all over again. I figured the plans for D-Day must be in the basement of the Pentagon somewhere. It would be a piece of cake.
Sargent…So, what happened?
Cheney…Well, we were ready to go. The President was on board one hundred percent. Carl Rove and Rummy thought up a whole bunch of crimes that France had committed against the world. You know, to justify obliterating a third of their population.
So what happens? Some jerk-off bureaucrat at the Pentagon misplaced the D-Day invasion plans. We’d have to start again from scratch. The boys at Central Command said ‘No can do’. Well, that was that. America never got the Summer show it so needed and deserved.
Cheney…That’s easy. Let’s see – there’s George Patton, old blood and guts. There’s a lot you can learn from a guy like that. And Julius Caesar, of course. And the Romanian, Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Impaler. I sure would like to pick his brain on his interrogation techniques. He made water boarding look like scrabble. And someone funny. I know, how about Ayn Rand, with that pungent sense of humor of hers. She’d keep the conversation moving. Oh, and for the fifth, Mickey Rooney.
Sargent…Why Mickey Rooney?
Cheney…Balance. With a crowd as distinguished as that, I’d like to know that there’s at least one guy at that table who’s shorter than me.
Sargent…Thank you Mr. Vice President.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
A TALE OF TWO MOVIES
Two films I recently saw that were shot on shoestring budgets, and that took two very different paths in story telling. One I liked, and one, well………………
By Shaun Costello
Greg Harrison 2004
This low budget indie made quite a splash at the 2004 Sundance Festival, and was well received the following year at the Festivals in LA and Seattle. Considering its budget, November is visually dazzling, but there’s much less here than meets the eye. When a director on a low budget film decides to compensate for lack of funds with dizzying camera tricks, editorial gimmickry, and story telling razzle-dazzle, the result is usually disappointing, and lovely-to-look-at though it is, November is no exception. Who exactly died here? Did he die? Did she die? Did they both die? Do I really care?
This Lynchy, Shyamalanesque, neo-Roshomon attempt runs out of steam early on, and becomes unforgivably derivative and imitative. On the evening of November 7, photographer Sophie Jacobs (Courtney Cox, who does not change her facial expression once throughout the film) and her attorney boyfriend Hugh (James LeGros) go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. As they travel home afterward, Sophie develops a craving for “something sweet” and stops their car at a convenience store. While Hugh is in the store buying some chocolate for Sophie, an armed man (Mathew Carey) arrives and holds up the store, shooting the store clerk, his son, and Hugh dead. He runs away as Sophie arrives.
Sophie sinks into a deep depression, and cannot bring herself to erase Hugh’s voice from their apartment’s answering machine. She consults her psychiatrist, Dr. Fayn (Nora Dunn), about persistent headaches that she has been suffering from since his death. She tells Dr. Fayn that the headaches started to occur before the incident at the convenience store, and that she had been having an affair with a co-worker, Jesse (Michael Ealy). After Hugh’s death Sophie has dinner with her mother, Carol Jacobs (AnneArcher), who accidentally knocks a glass over.
During a college photography class that she teaches, Sophie sets up a slide projector for the students to showcase their best photographs. One slide in the slide show depicts the exterior of the convenience store on the evening of November 7. Sophie contacts Officer Roberts (Nick Offerman), the head of the investigation into the shootings at the convenience store, who is as puzzled as she is as to who is responsible for the photos. Sophie’s headaches continue, and she begins to hear strange noises coming from within her apartment building and mysterious voices on the phone. Later, Officer Roberts discovers that the photo of the convenience store was paid for with Sophie’s credit card.
The film presents two more different versions of these events, and Sophie must figure out which is real before she loses grip on her sanity, and her life. The second version suggests that Sophie was present at the shootings and was only spared because the shooter ran out of bullets, and the third suggests both Sophie and Hugh were killed. In the words of Cox, her character “goes through three phases. First there’s denial. Then she feels guilty and sad about the situation. Then she has to learn to accept it.” According to Greg Harrison, the events in the film were Sophie’s memories as she and Hugh lay dying on the floor of the convenience store: “Each movement of this memory was her process of coming to terms with the terrible trauma, which was that she was killed for absolutely no reason, and it was some random act of violence she couldn’t confront”. He added he felt November was “open-ended” enough that he hoped viewers would “come up with the most beautiful stories themselves that are very different from how I saw it.”
Really, Greg? As each version of the story unfolds, the plot becomes almost laughably confusing, and ultimately unsatisfying. By the last shot, of the two lovers, hands extended toward one another in some cinematically sculpted mini-apocalypse, lying in pools of blood on the convenience store floor, I had long since stopped caring what had happened to whom, and why.
Oddly, I both liked and hated this movie, and am glad to have seen it, if for no other reason than Nancy Schreiber’s hypnotic visuals. Shot on mini DV at 24 FPS, the ‘look’ of November is worth the time spent watching it. If only Greg Harrison knew how to tell a story.
Nicole Holofcener 2010
I was hooked 15 seconds into the credits, which are supered over a montage of breasts being squeezed and flattened onto mammogram plates at a radiology center, scored to the Roches’ hilarious and wise song, “No Shoes”, with its litany of self-mocking complaints, “I had no shoes and I complained/Until I met a man who had no feet.” Please Give is a wonderful example of movie-making on a budget, without resorting to gimmickry.
The last words in “Please Give,” Nicole Holofcener’s latest comic drama of spiky manners, are “you’re welcome.” They’re uttered by Kate, a New York malcontent played with complex appeal by the wonderful actress Catherine Keener. Kate’s daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele), a stridently truculent teenager, has in a rare instance of filial generosity just thanked her mother for agreeing to pay for a pricey pair of jeans. From the near-beatific look on Kate’s face, it seems that after struggling to make amends for some vague, unarticulated wrong — by doling out cash to homeless people, for instance — she has found her moment of grace.
Few American filmmakers create female characters as realistically funny, attractively imperfect and flat-out annoying as does Ms. Holofcener, whose features include “Friends With Money” and “Lovely & Amazing.” You may not love them, but you recognize their charms and frailties, their fears and hopes. They may remind you of your friends, your sisters or even yourself, which makes them attractive and sometimes off-putting, an unusual, complicated mix. We don’t necessarily or only go to the movies to see mirror versions of ourselves: we also want (or think we do) better, kinder, nobler, prettier and thinner images, idealized types and aspirational figures we can take pleasure in or laugh at in all their plastic unreality. The female characters in Ms. Holofcener’s films don’t live in those movies: they watch them.
“Please Give” involves a cluster of such women, including Kate and her only child, the 15-year-old Abby, and their irascible next-door neighbor, Andra (Ann Guilbert), a nonagenarian with two granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet). Kate and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), expect to take over Andra’s apartment when she dies, a macabre objective that they compensate for with strained smiles and by running an occasional errand for her. Kate and Alex also own a store specializing in midcentury Modern furniture, lamps and the like, which they stock from the apartments of the dead. It stings when a customer calls them ambulance chasers, but there’s a touch of truth to that remark.
Given how unpleasant Andra is, you can almost understand Kate and Alex’s impatience, though I don’t think that is exactly what Ms. Holofcener had in mind when she gave her characters so many thorns. Kate and Alex want to expand their already spacious Upper West Side apartment, a desire that slightly embarrasses them and creates tension, particularly during a birthday party that Kate gives for Andra. Mary, who comes with so many spikes she could star in a “Hellraiser” sequel (as Mrs. Pinhead), and has had too much to drink (as is her habit), urges Kate to explain her renovation plans to everyone, Andra included. It’s an uncomfortable exchange, but like too many scenes, it also feels rigged for maximum outrage.
Most of Andra’s needs are met by Rebecca, who works as an X-ray technician taking mammograms. Ms. Holofcener doesn’t overdo the scenes of Rebecca tending to the patients, who might soon learn the worst. But the delicacy of Rebecca’s touch speaks a great deal about a woman who is also so depressed or repressed or something that she can’t even admit that she wants to see the leaves turn colors in the fall.
What’s eating Rebecca? What isn’t? Certainly she doesn’t have it easy. Her mother died when she and Mary were young, and their dad soon headed out the door. (Maybe he was running from Andra.) Having been raised by her grandmother, Rebecca now buys Andra’s groceries and doles out her medications, living with Mary in a dreary, sterile apartment where they eat microwave dinners and watch television amid sisterly sniping. A sloppy, mean drinker with a quiver full of insults, Mary works in a spa and spends far too much time browning in a tanning bed — she looks like a Creamsicle. Neither sister seems to have any outside friends or, initially, a love life, which strikes a false note until you get to know them.
Generationally, Abby, Mary and Andra embody the ages of woman — youth, adulthood and old age — a sort of variation on Gail Sheehy’s “Passages.” But because they’re so unmodulated, barely saying a kind word among them, they become tough to take. (Ms. Peet, nonetheless, keeps you watching and engaged.) The appeal of Ms. Holofcener’s films, which are visually unmemorable, rests almost entirely in her characters, so the lack of shading among these three throws the story off balance. Rebecca lacks a similar modulation until she meets a guy, Eugene (Thomas Ian Nicholas). Men might not make women happy here, but left to their own devices, women tend only to make one another unhappy.
The more you get to know these women, the less time you want to spend with them — they’re so full of complaint that it feels as if Ms. Holofcener were worried about making them false, turning them into movie characters. The exception is Kate, because she comes with the most dimensions and is played by Ms. Keener (a Holofcener veteran). No one in American movies does difficult women better than Ms. Keener, who’s fearless when it comes to nasty, cold roles, yet resists caricature. (At her most withering, she can recall George Sanders.) Her character in “Please Give” isn’t acerbic, but Kate has bite, along with a lot of underexamined — by her and by Ms. Holofcener — guilt, most of which appears to have something to do with being bourgeois.
Kate’s habit of giving money to homeless people, along with the film’s title, suggests the scope of Ms. Holofcener’s intentions. There’s so much hurt in the world, and Kate wants to help. But she’s a rotten volunteer, weepy and self-conscious, and she doesn’t seem to see the pain closer to home. She’s the definition of the guilty white (presumed) liberal and might have been a rich source of comedy and pathos. But only if we saw her working through her issues (and her narcissism) with more obvious intelligence and greater self-awareness, wrestling more thoughtfully with life the way that Ms. Holofcener herself has tried to do in this likable if frustrating film. Ms. Holofcener didn’t need to come up with answers for Kate — the ones in the movie are less than satisfying — but it would have been nice if she had let Kate ask some harder questions.
That said, I really liked this movie.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
Ten fantasy-driven films I saw on TV, while home from school, pretending to be sick in the fourth grade, that changed my life forever.
By Shaun Costello
My life-long love affair with motion pictures began, not in the cavernous movie palaces of New York City, although I regularly accompanied my parents, or my grandmother to see the latest offerings at Radio City Music Hall, The Roxy, The Loews State, and the Palace; but instead on the 15 inch screen of my family’s black and white Dumont television set, that occupied a place of honor in the finished basement of our house at 9 Elderberry Lane, in the suburban village of Valley Stream, about a 40 minute car ride to mid-town Manhattan. I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade at the local Catholic School, and for purposes of full disclosure, have to admit to taking full advantage of every trick imaginable in order to accrue more than my share of sick days, pretending to be at death’s door, in order to not be held accountable for homework not done, or book reports not finished, or maybe just giving in to chronic laziness in a Herculean attempt to keep my eyes glued to our television screen, without interruption, for, if possible, the entire day.
Daytime TV in the mid-Fifties offered a cornucopia of entertainment, beginning with NBC’c Today Show with Dave Garroway and his chimp Mr Muggs, followed by Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, featuring The McGuire Sisters, Julius LaRosa, and Hawaiian Hottie, Haleloke, who sang songs like ‘Lovely Hula Hands’. Then came a half hour watching Jack LaLane pumping iron and drinking carrot
juice, followed by an assortment of Game Shows and Soap Operas. The afternoon kicked off with Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane, which offered Franklin talking with people I’d never heard of and showing old shorts and Feature Films. There were two channels, WOR Channel Nine, and WPIX Channel Eleven that regularly showed old movies. Channel Eleven showed mostly Westerns – lots of Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, Bob Steele, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Westerns were right up my alley, but Channel Nine showed a variety of movies, some of which got my attention, and had me clambering for more. Movies about the supernatural which included ghosts, goblins, fairy tale characters, outrageous swindles, outlandish inventions, mermaids, men who could walk through walls, statues that came to life when you kissed them; genies, giants, magic carpet rides, magicians, and friendly spirits who could appear and disappear at will. I was hooked. I was mesmerized. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered form of entertainment.
The purpose of this list, dear reader, is to share ten of these gloriously outlandish movies with you. Ten preposterously unearthly and undignified examples of fantasy cinema, that thrilled me beyond my wildest expectation, and changed my life forever. Of course, you might excuse my reaction to these movies by suggesting that I was nine years old, but here we are, a half century later, and I can still hear that haunting musical score, the sound of singing, the kind of singing that only comes from out near Key Ora, as Mr. Peabody rows his boat through that thick fog bank, following the song, and searching for his mermaid.
So, in alphabetical order:
BABES IN TOYLAND
1934 Charles Rogers and Gus Meins
Based on Victor Herbert’s popular 1903 Operetta of the same name, Babes in Toyland was later released under the titles ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’, and ‘Wooden Soldiers’.
This is a delightfully silly fantasy amalgam of Fairy Tale characters with Laurel and Hardy at its center as Stanley Dum and Ollie Dee. The film’s story takes place in the fictional Kingdom of Toyland, inhabited by Mother Goose, Tom-Tom Piper, Mother Peep and Bo Peep, Stan and Ollie’s boss the Toymaker, and the evil Silas Barnaby, who holds Toyland in a constant threat of siege from his henchmen, the Bogey Men, who lurk just outside the gates of the city. Stan and Ollie live in a shoe, with “The Old Woman”, who turns out to be Mother Peep, her daughter Bo Peep, a mouse that is actually played by a monkey in costume, and so many children she didn’t know what to do. The mortgage on The Shoe is owned by the villainous Silas Barnaby, who has his eyes on the lovely Bo Peep. Stan and Ollie try to borrow enough money to pay off the mortgage from their boss the Toymaker, but the normally kindly gentleman is furious at our boys for mixing up an order from Santa Claus, and building one hundred Toy Soldiers six feet tall, rather that what Santa really wanted – six hundred Toy Soldiers one foot tall, so he fires them. With Stan and Ollie unemployed, and The Shoe in foreclosure, Barnaby’s got his clutches into Bo Peep, and the horrible Bogey Men are breaking down the gate to the city. All seems lost, until Stan comes up with the solution. “The Soldiers, the Toy Soldiers”, so our heroes wind up their army of one hundred six foot tall Toy Saviors, Victor Herbert’s March music begins to swell, and Toyland is saved in the nick of time.
Directed by Gus Meins and Charles Rogers (whoever they are), Produced by Hal Roach, and released through MGM. Silly, delicious fluff that I must have seen 20 times down through the years. I can still hear that ‘March Music’.
THE BARON OF ARIZONA
1950 Sam Fuller
How can a person own a whole state? That’s the question I asked myself when I first saw this Hollywood ‘land-grab’ fantasy. But the fact is, it turns out to be based on a true story, as preposterous as that might seem, and not really a fantasy at all. It’s based on the story of master forger James Reavis, who, in the late Nineteenth Century, almost got away with taking over the entire State of Arizona, forging documents claiming that the area then called Arizona had been granted to his family by the King of Spain, centuries earlier. The U.S. government recognized land grants made when the West was under Spanish rule. This inspired James Reavis to forge a chain of historical evidence that made a foundling girl the Baroness of Arizona. Reavis married the girl and pressed his claim to the entire Arizona territory. And he almost gets away with it. Makes you wonder where John McCain would be today, had this delightful bit of mischief actually succeeded. The real James Reavis (1843 – 1914) was found guilty of creating forged documents, paid a fine of five thousand dollars, and spent two year in jail.
A nice turn here by Vincent Price, as the adventurous forger, and Ellen Drew as the foundling child, who almost became the Baroness of Arizona. Solid direction by war film maven Sam Fuller, and stunning, as usual, black and white lensing by the inimitable James Wong Howe. An aside – Ed Wood does a turn here as a stunt double.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
1951 Brian Desmond Hurst
The one and only. So many movies have been produced from Dickens’ classic story (even my own), but this Alistair Sim version still holds up as the all-time champ. A wonderful story, simply told, with a bumbling, befuddled, and delighted Sim at its core. The word “humbug”, forever connected to this story and with the Scrooge character, is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas. The word “humbug” actually describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people are only pretending to be charitable and kind in a scandalous effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to
fool him and take advantage of his good nature. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he stoops to trust them.
At least, this is what he thought before that fateful Christmas Eve, when the spirit of his long-dead partner, Jacob Marley, made his ghostly appearance at Scrooge’s bedside, foretelling of the coming of three apparitions that would all appear to Scrooge that very night, in the hope of saving his soul. At the age of nine, I hadn’t read the Dickens book, and was unaware of the story, and this movie scared the bejesus out of me. Although this film is carefully directed, beautifully shot and art-directed, and a typically solid early-Fifties British Production, it’s Alistair Sim’s delicious performance, as the transformed miser, that drives the bus here.
Beyond Sim, there’s Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddelee as the Cratchits, Michael Hordern as Marley’s ghost, George Cole as a hopeful but broken-hearted young Ebenezer Scrooge, and Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim, who has the last word, “God bless us, everyone”.
THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR
1947 Joe Mankiewicz
In early 1900s England, a young widow, Lucy Muir (a devastatingly beautiful Gene Tierney), moves to the seaside village of Whitecliff and into Gull Cottage with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood)) and her maid Martha (Edna Best), despite
the fierce disapproval of her mother, and sister-in-law. She rents the house despite discovering that it’s haunted. On the first night in her new digs, she is visited by the ghostly apparition of the former owner, a roguish sea captain named Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), who reluctantly promises to make himself known only to her; Anna is too young for ghosts. When Lucy’s source of investment income dries up, he dictates to her his memoirs, entitled Blood and Swash. His racy recollections make the book a bestseller, allowing Lucy to stay in the house. During the course of writing the book, they fall in love, but as both realize it is a hopeless situation, Daniel tells her she should find a real (live) man.
When she visits the publisher in London she becomes attracted to suave Miles Fairley (George Sanders), a writer of children’s stories known as “Uncle Neddy” who helps her obtain an interview. Despite a rocky beginning, the publisher agrees to publish the captain’s book. Fairley follows her back to Whitecliff and begins a whirlwind courtship. Captain Gregg, initially jealous of their relationship, decides finally to disappear and cease being an obstacle to her happiness. He ends their relationship and convinces her that his ghostly apparitions were only a dream. Shortly thereafter, while visiting her publisher in London (the book has become a bestseller), Lucy pays a surprise visit to Fairley’s home and discovers that, not only is Miles already married with two children, but that this sort of thing has happened before with other women. Lucy leaves heartbroken and returns to spend the rest of her life as a single woman in Gull Cottage with Martha to look after her.
About ten years later, Anna (Vanessa Brown) returns to the cottage with her Navy Lieutenant fiancée and tells her mother that she knew about Captain Gregg and Miles Fairley all the time, rekindling faint memories in her mother of the captain (we also learn that Miles Fairley has become fat and bald and that his wife and children finally left him).
After a long peaceful life spent at the cottage, Lucy dies. This being a movie, Captain Gregg appears before her at the moment of her death – reaching out, he lifts her young spirit free of her old dead body. The two walk out of the front door arm in arm, into the mist. Two spooks in love, and together at long last.
This movie hooked me from the very first moments, and kept my nine year-old eyes glued to that screen. Nicely directed by Joe Mankiewicz, and released by Twentieth Century Fox and Darryl Zanuck. I could spend my whole life in Gull Cottage by the sea, listening to Bernard Herrman’s fabulous music, and playing bridge with ghostly apparitions. I’m just saying………………….
THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT
1951 Alexander Mackendrick
A delightful satirical comedy from England’s ever-fabulous Ealing Studios, who brought us The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Lady Killers. It followed a consistent Ealing theme of the common man (Alec Guiness) against the establishment (everyone else). Sidney Stratton, a brilliant young research chemist and former Cambridge scholarship recipient, has been dismissed from jobs at several textile mills because of his demands for expensive facilities and his obsession to invent a long-lasting fiber. While working as a research chemist at the Birnley Mill, his daily toil accompanied by the constant, almost musical sound of bubbling liquids, he accidently invents an incredibly strong fiber which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made – which is brilliant white because it cannot absorb dye, and slightly luminous because it includes radioactive elements.
Stratton is lauded as a genius until both management and the trade unions realize the consequence of his invention – once consumers have purchased enough cloth, demand will drop precipitously and put the textile industry out of business. The managers try to trick Stratton into signing away the rights to his invention but he refuses. Managers and workers each try to lock him up, but he escapes.
The climax sees Stratton running through the streets at night in his glowing white suit, pursued by both the managers and the employees. As the crowd advances, his suit begins to fall apart as the chemical structure of the fiber breaks down with time. The mob, realizing the flaw in the process, rip pieces off his suit in evil triumph, until he is left standing in his underwear. Only Daphne Birnley, the mill-owner’s daughter, and Bertha, a Mill laborer, have sympathy for his disappointment.
The next day, Stratton is dismissed from his job. Departing, he consults his chemistry notes, and slowly, an expression of revelation overcomes him, as we hear that sound of those bubbling liquids once more. “I see!”, exclaims young Stratton. And off he goes, with another outlandish invention in his crosshairs.
As a nine year-old, what I liked most was that the white suit glowed in the dark. Guiness, as usual, is a delight, as is Joan Greenwood – she of the voice like tinkling crystal. Early, and solid black and white lensing by British cinematographer Doug Slocombe. You might find a dvd of this at your local library – mine has all the Ealing classics. Grab it, if you can.
MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID
1948 Irving Pichel
This one absolutely knocked me out. It was my first exposure to the idea that Mermaids were a possibility. This fish fantasy stars William Powell as Arthur Peabody, who is undergoing a mid-life crisis as he approaches his 50th birthday. Much of the story is shown in flashback as Peabody tells his skeptical doctor a fish tale for the ages.
Peabody had gone on vacation with his wife Polly (Irene Hervey) to a sea side resort in Bermuda. One evening, he hears singing coming from the distant Key Ora, singing, the likes of which he’s never heard before. He asks s few of the locals, and some of them have heard it too, but long ago. So, our song-smitten hero decides to do a little fishing. To his surprise, he reels in a beautiful mermaid played by Ann Blyth. He names her Lenore (shades of Poe here), and although mute, Lenore is mischievous and childlike and not just a little bit alluring – so much so that before long Peabody has taught her the art of kissing. She shows him an extraordinarily beautiful comb, made from a shell, that she wears in her hair. He hides Lenore by letting her soak in a suds-filled bathtub, then later in the resort’s fish pond. But confusion ensues as his wife thinks he has a big fish in their bathtub and later suspects him of infidelity with Cathy Livingston (Andrea King), a vacationing singer. Things get even more complicated when, after an angry Polly returns home without Peabody, police suspect him of her murder. But they’re British Police (hey, it’s Bermuda), after all, and it would be uncivilized to arrest a man in his home, even if it’s a rental.
And Peabody hears that singing again, out from somewhere near Key Ora. Out in that thick fog bank. And off he goes in his little boat, searching for the lost Lenore. A wave capsizes his craft, and while trying to survive under the water, he see’s and reaches for Lenore’s beautiful comb.
We dissolve here, ending the fishy-flashback, to his shrink’s office, back in Boston. He’s told his story to a doubting psychiatrist, who knows a mid-life crisis when he see’s one. But wait – Peabody’s got something in his hand. Something he’s been holding all the while he’s been telling his tale. “What’s that”, asks his shrink. “Oh nothing”, say’s Peabody. “Just a comb I found somewhere”. “How extraordinary”, say’s the Doctor, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it before”. And we begin to hear that singing again, like the kind of singing that only comes from that thick fog bank, somewhere out near Key Ora.
Well, this being my first mermaid experience, I was just as smitten as poor Peabody – smitten, but combless.
1951 Jean Boyer
This one also knocked me for a loop. In Paris, a simple civil servant named Léon, who has the unusual ability to walk through walls (who cares why – he can really do this), falls madly in love with a hotel thief by the name of Susan. He poses as Garou-Garou, a dangerous gangster to attempt to woo her affections, but is mistakenly arrested and sent to jail. While incarcerated, he annoys the guards by walking in and out of his cell, right through the bars, and the cell walls. It’s a bizarre, modern/fantasy/adventure/ romance. It’s boy meets girl with an walk-through twist. Leon’s friends suggest he use his odd ability to become the criminal of the century, walking through bank vaults and off with the loot. But, Leon instead, see’s his strange gift as a way to help Susan, who is being blackmailed. A very moralistic tale – love triumphs over crime. The film stars Bourvil, as Leon, who up until this effort, had been a semi-successful French lounge singer and comedian; and the delightful Joan Greenwood (that voice again) as Susan the Cat Burglar. Fantasizing about having Leon’s abilities took up a great deal of my young life. The possibilities were endless. Unlike other films on this list, I confess to only having seen this that one time, on my family’s black and white Dumont, but I never forgot this delightful French fantasy. I know it’s a one trick pony – but what a trick.
ONE TOUCH OF VENUS
1948 William A. Seiter
Kiss a statue, and it turns into Ava Gardner? Yikes! Since I’ve turned parts of this Blog into a my own private confessional, I might just as well go on record here, as having laid the smooch on countless pieces of marble and granite, in a futile attempt to recreate the aforementioned morphing, after seeing this movie, at the tender age of nine, in the confines of my basement. I even talked my puzzled parents into a trip to the Metropolitan Museum so that I could sneak up on renowned statuary and, when no one was looking, do some furtive fondling. The idea of possessing my very own Ava Gardner overwhelmed me, and probably was the beginning of my inability, throughout my life, to nurture and maintain a lengthy and lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex. I was looking for a statue, instead. But, before I rant on about one of my favorite fantafilms, let me give you some of the surprising background for this production from Universal’s fluff department.
One Touch of Venus was a Broadway musical with the score written by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, and book by S. J. Perelman and Nash, based on the novella The Tinted Venus by Thomas Anstey Guthrie, and very loosely spoofing the Pygmalion myth. The show satirized contemporary American suburban values, artistic fads and romantic and sexual mores. Weill had been in America for ten years by the time he wrote this musical, and his music, though retaining his early haunting power, had evolved into a very different Broadway style.
The original Broadway production opened at the Imperial Theatre on October 7, 1943 and closed on February 10, 1945 after 567 performances. The original production was directed by Elia Kazan and featured choreography by Agnes de Mille. It starred Mary Martin, Kenny Baker and Paula Laurence. Marlene Dietrich reportedly backed out of the title role during rehearsals, calling it “too sexy and profane”, which gave Martin the opportunity to establish herself as a Broadway star. The show was made into the 1948 film, directed by William A. Seiter and starring Ava Gardner and Robert Walker. The movie version omitted much of the Broadway score and received poor reviews.
OK, enough surprising background. Let’s get back to kissing a statue and getting Eva Gardner in the bargain. Wealthy department-store mogul Whitfield Savory II (Tom Conway) buys a statue of Venus for $200,000. He plans to exhibit it in the store.
Eddie Hatch (Robert Walker), a window dresser, kisses the statue on a whim. To his shock, Venus comes to life as Eva Gardner. She leaves the store and Eddie is accused of stealing the work of art.
Nobody believes the truth, including secretary Molly Stewart (the one and only Eve Arden), who is Savory’s right-hand woman, and Kerrigan (James Flavin), a detective. Venus turns up at Eddie’s apartment, forcing him to hide her from girlfriend Gloria and roommate Joe.
Entranced by Venus’s song of love, Joe falls for Eddie’s girl Gloria. At the store, meanwhile, Venus has fallen asleep on a sofa and is discovered there by Whitfield, who is instantly smitten.
Kerrigan decides it’s time for Eddie to be placed under arrest for the statue’s theft. Venus, to save Eddie, is willing to seduce Whitfield, but a threat by Molly to leave him brings Whitfield back to his senses. He realizes it’s Molly he truly loves. Aw Geeze.
Venus is called home by Jupiter and must return to Mount Olympus, so she returns to her pedestal. Whitfield can now display his work of art to the public. Eddie is the only one left alone, at least until he meets a new salesgirl who is, I’ll bet you knew this was coming, a dead ringer for the goddess of love.
I’ve spent my life trying to turn marble into flesh, only to find that the opposite usually happens.
THIEF OF BAGDAD
1940 Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan
A fantasy for all seasons! Years ahead of its time, in special effects, cinematography, and directorial vision, this movie, maybe more than any other, just plain blew my sox off. When the giant genie, all 100 feet of him, lowers his hand, allowing Sabu to climb aboard, and then flips the little fellow up onto his shoulder, telling him to take hold of the long pig tail, and with Sabu holding on for dear life, and an echoing, thunderous laughter, the Genie takes flight, I just stood up and started screaming…..screaming! I couldn’t contain my joy.
OK, I’ll calm down now, enough to explain the story. Ahmad (John Justin), the naive King of Bagdad, is convinced by the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), to go out into the city disguised as a poor man to get to know his subjects (in the manner of his grandfather Harun al-Rashid). Jaffar then has Ahmad thrown into a dungeon, where he is joined by Abu the thief (Sabu), son of Abu the thief, grandson of Abu the thief. Abu arranges their escape.
They flee to Basra, where Ahmad becomes acquainted with its Princess (June Duprez). However, Jaffar also journeys to Basra, for he desires the Princess. Her father, the Sultan (Miles Malleson), is fascinated by the magical mechanical flying horse Jaffar offers and agrees to the proposed marriage. Upon hearing the news, the Princess, by now deeply in love with Ahmad, runs away. Confronted by Ahmad, Jaffar magically blinds him and turns Abu into a dog; the spell can only be broken if Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms.
The Princess is eventually captured (but not recognized) and sold in the slave market. She is bought secretly by Jaffar and taken to his mansion, but falls into a deep sleep from which he cannot rouse her. Ahmad is tricked by Jaffar’s servant Halima (Mary Morris) into awaking the Princess. Halima then lures the Princess onto Jaffar’s ship by telling her that there is a doctor aboard who can cure Ahmad’s blindness. The ship immediately sets sail. Jaffar informs the Princess about the spell; she allows herself to be embraced, whereupon Ahmad’s sight is restored and Abu is returned to human form. They chase after the ship in a small boat, but Jaffar conjures up a storm to shipwreck them.
Abu wakes up alone on a deserted beach and finds a bottle. When he opens it, an enormous djinn or genie (Rex Ingram) appears. Embittered by his long imprisonment, the genie informs Abu that he is going to kill his rescuer, but Abu tricks him back into the bottle. The genie then offers to grant Abu three wishes if he will let him out again. The hungry boy uses his first wish to ask for sausages. When Abu demands to know where Ahmad is, the genie flies Abu to the top of the highest mountain in the world. On it sits a temple, and in the temple there is an enormous statue with a large jewel, the All-Seeing Eye, set in its forehead. The genie tells Abu that the Eye will show him where to find Ahmad. Abu fights off a giant guardian spider while climbing the statue and steals the gem.
The genie then takes Abu to Ahmad. When Ahmad asks to see the Princess, Abu has him gaze into the All-Seeing Eye. Ahmad despairs when he sees Jaffar arranging for the Princess to inhale the fragrance of the Blue Rose of Forgetfulness, which makes her forget her love. In agony, Ahmad lashes out at Abu for showing him the scene. During the ensuing argument, Abu unthinkingly wishes Ahmad to Baghdad. The genie, freed after granting the last wish, departs, leaving Abu alone in the wilderness.
Ahmad appears in Jaffar’s castle and is quickly captured, but seeing him restores the Princess’s memory. The furious usurper sentences them both to death. Abu, unable to watch his friend’s impending doom, shatters the All-Seeing Eye and as a result is transported to the “land of legend,” where he is greeted by the Old King (Morton Selten) and thanked for freeing the inhabitants, who had been turned to stone. As a reward, he is given a magic crossbow and is named the king’s successor. However, in order to save Ahmad, he steals the king’s magic flying carpet and rushes to the rescue.
Abu’s marvelous aerial arrival (which fulfills a prophecy often cited in the course of the story) sparks a revolt against Jaffar. Abu kills the fleeing Jaffar with his crossbow, and Ahmad regains his kingdom and his love. However, when Abu hears (with growing alarm) Ahmad tell the people of his plan to send him to school to train to become his new Grand Vizier, Abu flies away on the carpet to find his own fun and adventure.
Did you get all that? Just checking. And every frame is gorgeous and thrilling. Nominated for four Oscars, it won three: Best Cinematography, Special Effects, and Art Direction. Shooting began in England, but with the outbreak of WWII, the picture was finished in Hollywood. Produced by Alexander Korda, it took three directors to make this happen; Michael Powell (later to dazzle with The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and many more), Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan. Absolutely dazzling, from beginning to end.
1937 Norman McLeod
Well, we’ve come down to it – ghosts, fun loving, hard drinking, practical joking ghosts. Appearing and disappearing at will. What could be better? Those funloving Kerbys, George (Cary Grant) and Marion (Constance Bennett), stockholders in the bank of which henpecked, stuffy Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) is president, drive recklessly once too often and become ghosts. In limbo because they’ve never done either good or bad deeds, they decide to try a good one now; rehabilitating Topper. Lovely, flirtatious Marion takes a keen personal interest in the job. Will Topper survive the wrath of jealous ghost George? Will Mrs. Topper (Billie Burke) find that a scandalous husband isn’t all bad?
“Topper”, a delightful and original film directed by Norman Z McLeod, should be on everybody’s ‘must see’ list. It is one of the best films Hollywood produced, at the height of the madcap comedy craze of the thirties. Just to watch Roland Young, Constance Bennett and Cary Grant in the same film is pretty delicious.
Constance Bennett and Cary Grant made a fabulous couple. Ms. Bennett had the uncanny gift of blending with all her leading men well. She was a charming actress with such a sense of style and an amazing figure to boot that made her an irresistible presence on the screen. Cary Grant is also seen at his best in the film as the carefree and fun loving George Kerby.
But it’s Roland Young who steals the show! He plays the staid banker Cosmo Topper, who is all business until he starts being made the object of the Kerby’s antics. Cosmo Topper’s wife is the incomparable Billie Burke, the Queen of Ditz.
Produced (uncredited, for some reason) by Hal Roach, shot by Norbert Brodine, and music by Marvin Hatley, Topper, referred to as ‘Toppie’ by Ms Bennett, makes me happy every time I see it. Delicious fluff!
© 2011 Shaun Costello
A DAY AT THE RACES
Remembering Steeplechase Park
By Shaun Costello
When I was nine years old I lived at Nine Elderberry Lane, in the suburban subdivision of Green Acres, a delightfully park-like, child-friendly community, in Long Island’s Nassau County – about a forty minute car ride from midtown Manhattan. I’m not sure if this effected my lunar alignment, but during my short, ill-fated liaison with the Cub Scouts that year, I was assigned to Den Number Nine – the third in an inexplicable series of numeric coincidences that would connect me to this ninth digit throughout my life.
We lived in a two story brick house that was identical to every fourth house in the community, Green Acres offering four designs to choose from. This meant that on Elderberry Lane, which had a total of fourteen houses, our house was repeated three or four times, pretty typical in post World War II cookie-cutter subdivisions. Our house design was shared with the Coopers, the Ainbinders, and one other family whose name escapes me. The Calise’s house was identical to the Lupo’s, and two others, whose occupant’s identities have long since disappeared, along with most of my memory cells. The Noke’s house was duplicated by the Kelly’s, who lived across the street from my family, and two others who lived on the North end of the street. Sounds a bit like Baltimore, but people seemed to find their way to their own houses unaided, with the exception of my philandering father, who was often accused by my mother of spending just a bit too much time offering domestic assistance to neighboring housewives, which was the cause of many interruptions in our familial tranquility. Virtually all of the streets in Green Acres were cul-de-sacs, which meant no through-traffic, or paradise to a kid on a Schwinn. Sections of the community were separated by small parks, so that you could walk from one end to the other without crossing a single street, allowing our extremely eccentric Dachshund ‘Ronzoni’ to wander freely about the neighborhood, sometimes for days at a time.
Our house had a finished basement, which was the location of extremely noisy New Years Eve parties given by my parents, and the family television, a large black and white Dumont, which thrilled me with episodes of Flash Gordon, Davey Crockett, The Wonderful World of Disney, and sporting events like the World Series, and the Kentucky Derby. There were two bedrooms on the first floor, one for my parents, and the other for my little sister. The second floor however, was all mine, and I reveled in the privacy of my domain. My room was filled with the typical accoutrements of masculine childhood: my Rawlings Stan Musial baseball glove, a junior-sized Louisville Slugger bat, assorted books and box games, my comic book collection, a fairly large Emerson radio on which I listened to serials like The Green Hornet, The FBI In Peace and War, Gang Busters, and Sergeant Preston of the Mounties and his dog Yukon King. In drawers and on shelves were lots of little metal soldiers, painted appropriate colors, some of which defended my model of Fort Apache against the heathen redskin, in the never-ending battle to tame the frontier. In my closet was a large box containing my Lionel Electric Trains, which I took out and assembled whenever I was overtaken by the need for a railroad experience. Lost amongst the kiddy-clutter, unless you knew where to look, was a small, metal statuette of a tower, not quite six inches tall. This was a souvenir of my greatest childhood experience. A replica of the tower from which I had taken a leap into the great unknown, floating almost weightlessly through the air, slowly descending toward the dense crowd of bathers that covered the beaches of Brooklyn. It was the day I took the Coney Island Parachute Jump, just a few years before they finally shut it down.
I’m not sure how many times my family made the ritualistic trek to Coney Island, but it had to have been at least once a year since I was five. I say ritualistic because the day’s activities developed into a pattern that never changed. Our family of four would pack ourselves into our freshly washed Nash Rambler Station Wagon, my father at the wheel, telling stories of his own childhood trips to Coney Island from his family’s home in the Bronx, as we left the suburban confines of Green Acres, taking the Belt Parkway past Idlewild Airport, and following the Atlantic coast of Queens and then Brooklyn, until arriving at the bastion of exotic entertainment possibilities that was Coney Island. Oh, what joy.
My father was tour guide, and pretty much supervised the day’s agenda which, after parking the car, always began at The Cyclone, the world’s largest wooden roller coaster. My father mainly served in an organizational, as opposed to a participatory capacity. He would watch while we went on the rides, but The Cyclone was different. Maybe it served as some conduit to memories of his childhood, or possibly a challenge to his masculinity, but riding The Cyclone was always first on my father’s Coney Island agenda, and he always rode with the rest of us. You waited on line for the coaster cars to come a halt, the attendant releasing the safety bars that allowed the dizzy, exhausted, riders to stagger to their feet, and make their woozy exit. You jumped into one of the empty cars (the first was best), and waited for the safety bar to lock you in. The cars began to move slowly forward, until you found yourself in a dark tunnel, suddenly bombarded with blaring horns and flashing lights, meant to tantalize those of us to who confused mortal terror with fun. And then we were in the light again, as the car-train began the ascent to the inevitable, gravity-driven plunge into five minutes of thrill-ride that you hoped could be accomplished without the occupants of the car ahead of you losing their lunch.
And next, as always – Nathans. The men in the family wolfed down a few hot dogs, while my mother had something called a Shrimp Boat, and my sister, always a picky eater, had to be cajoled and persuaded into eating anything at all – probably something disgustingly sweet like a candy apple. Once properly satiated with junk food, we took the short walk down Surf Avenue to the entrance of the building that housed the most extraordinary assortment of sensory pleasures since man discovered fun – Steeplechase Park.
Steeplechase Park was the brainchild of George Tilyou, who saw the ferris wheel at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and decided to build a bigger wheel back on Brooklyn’s Coney Island, where his family had restaurants. Tilyou’s enormous Wonder Wheel quickly became Coney Island’s biggest attraction. He surrounded the Wonder Wheel with many other rides and attractions, including a mechanical Steeplechase ride, that raced around the borders of the park, giving the popular amusement venue its name. Steeplechase Park was swept by fire in 1907, and almost totally destroyed. The morning after the fire Tilyou posted a sign outside the park. It read:
To enquiring friends: I have troubles today that I had not yesterday. I had troubles yesterday which I have not today. On this site will be built a bigger, better Steeplechase Park. Admission to the burning ruin – Ten cents.
The park reopened for business in 1909, and contained a “Pavillion of Fun”, an indoor venue that covered five acres. At the close of the 1939 World’s Fair, Tilyou purchased the Fair’s Parachute Drop, and moved it to Steeplechase Park. The ride, which was originally a training device for paratroopers, became popular until the end of World War II, and wound up outliving the park itself, operating until 1964. Too expensive to tear down, the tower was finally declared a “Landmark” in 1977, and added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is the only remaining artifact of Steeplechase Park.
As I remember, and this reminiscence is mainly from memory, tickets to Steeplechase Park were purchased at the entrance, and entitled the bearer endless and repeated participation on any of the attractions in the park. The popularity of an attraction would limit the number of times you could participate. The most popular ride was, of course, the Steeplechase itself, the line for which could sometimes take two hours, so it was a ‘one time’ attraction, and worth the wait. The smaller, but still exciting attractions inside the building, had lines that might be as short as ten minutes, so you could repeat the experience until you dropped, or until your parents lost patience with your hunger for thrills. Almost everything inside the five acre ‘Pavillion of Fun’ was made of wood that, over the half century of use, had become the smoothest, softest surface imaginable. My favorite interior ride was a tower that was accessible by a long stairway, and contained a circular slide inside itself. You entered at the top, and by the time you reached the bottom you were moving fast enough to be propelled out onto the surface of an enormous wooden disc, some seventy five feet in diameter that was rotating clockwise. The disc contained on its surface, many smaller discs that were rotating both clockwise and counter clockwise, spinning its delighted victims from disc to disc, in many directions, until finally dumping them into a surrounding pit. The trick, of course, was staying on as long as possible, until too exhausted to stay on, you slid off into joyful oblivion.
The Barrel of Fun was another favorite. A hollow wooden cylinder, about twelve feet in diameter, and fifty feet long, that slowly revolved, dumping squealing thrill seekers all over each other. The Human Roulette Wheel was a raised, round, wooden platform, maybe thirty feet across. About fifty thrill riders would climb aboard, and the platform would begin to revolve, slowly at first, then faster, and faster, until the centrifugal force dumped the last passenger out into the smooth wooden circle surrounding it. This was a ‘last man standing venue’, and the last one off was given a prize. My father watched me try most of the more adventurous rides, while my mother accompanied my little sister on the smaller, slower slides and merry-go-rounds.
We were now about half way through our allotted five hours at Steeplechase Park, and thought had to be given to the two hour line for the Steeplechase ride itself, which was always the culmination of our day at the park. Usually, one parent and one child would take a place on the line, to be replaced by the other parent and child, in shifts. It was cheating of course, but not a serious enough breach in the line code for anyone to grumble much about. My father suggested my mother and sister taking the first line shift, while the men of the family walked about. This happened during every visit to Steeplechase, and I knew what was coming.
We wandered in the direction of the exit, my father suggesting that he needed a break. This was just another familiar element in the agenda of the day. Exiting the cacophonous thunder of Steeplechase Park, out into the bewildering quiet of Surf Avenue was always a shocking transition. My father led the way, like a man who knew where he was going, without necessarily having been there before. But, he knew what he was looking for, and within a few blocks, found it. We entered the darkened, smokey room, and my father’s pace noticeably quickened, like a man drowning in a churning sea of self-doubt, and entirely too much familial contentedness, who had been thrown a rope, that dragged him toward safety, and, arm over arm, he pulled himself closer and closer until an understanding face with a knowing nod silently enquired as to the brand of assistance he might need. “A VO Manhattan, on the rocks, and a coke-a-cola for my uncle here”, answered the familiar voice that was lost, but now was found. I had accompanied my father to many bars like this one, and they all seemed the same. Silent people, mostly men, sitting on bar stools, staring down at glasses filled with dark liquid, or at a soundless, fuzzy television screen, seeking salvation from their daily drudgery amongst fellow passengers who had all boarded at different stops, but seemed headed toward the same destination.
Not much was said here, the lingua franca of the cocktail lounge being the knowing nod. I sipped my coke, all the while awaiting the crunchy sweetness of the maraschino cherry that now sat at the bottom of my father’s glass, but would soon be passed to me as peace offering, and payment for both my silence, and my company. My father, as always, sat quietly sipping his VO Manhattan, temporarily relieved of the responsibility for having experienced entirely too much of someone else’s idea of a good time for one afternoon.
The line for the Steeplechase ride had surprisingly shortened by the time we rejoined my mother and sister, who were in immediate need of a bathroom break. As I think back on the safety precautions that were taken for the riders of the park’s famous Steeplechase Ride, there is simply no way that this kind of danger would be allowed, much less legally sanctioned, in today’s liability culture. Eight wooden horses, each carrying two riders, and mechanically propelled along a monorail, just fast enough to thrill the squealing riders, up and down manufactured hills, all the way around the outside border of the five acre building, to a finish line off in the distance that came all too soon. Children were allowed to ride, not by their age, but by their height. There was a line drawn on the wall next to the entrance, and if you were tall enough, you got to go, if not, you went back to your family, crying and squealing, having experienced crushing disappointment. The only safety precaution taken was a small leather harness that I doubt would have prevented you from falling to serious injury, not to mention death. By now, I had ridden the Steeplechase enough to understand that boys like me had no shot whatsoever at riding the winning horse. The winner was, of course, determined by the ride operator, who always let cute little girls win at his venue. The
horses all left together at the start, exchanging the lead often to make the whole experience seem more competitive. The Steeplechase was the only ride, other than The Cyclone, that my father liked, so he mounted a horse with me, and my mother rode with my little sister.
The thrill of this experience is beyond description. The course was about fifty feet above street level, and surrounded the entire park, so you’re holding on for dear life while riding over Surf Avenue, and past the fringe of the Boardwalk, and the ocean, and cars with beeping horns, and the constant whirring sound of the mechanics of the equine vehicle you’re astride, and then the thrill of the false finish, and the ultimate disappointment of losing to some cute little girl, who walks off with a Blue Ribbon.
So, we had done it – five glorious, thrill-filled hours at Steeplechase Park, that left you with an exhausted sense of accomplishment, and satisfaction. But, it was not over – not yet. There was one more necessary, although sorrowful element to this saga. One more tearful, groveling, begging, pleading fit of humiliating condescension, dear reader, all perpetrated by me, as I begged my parents to let me ride the Parachute Jump, all the while knowing that there wasn’t a chance in hell they’d let me do it. You can not ride alone on the Parachute Jump, and my father had laid down the law. NO WAY! My father wouldn’t go with me, and they wouldn’t let me ride with a stranger. I knew my begging was folly, but was willing to experience the humiliation, just in case.
So, we found our Nash Rambler Station Wagon, got back on the Belt Parkway, and took the short drive to Sheepshead Bay, the last destination of the day. The last element in our Coney Island ritual – dinner at Lundy’s. Lundy’s was an enormous restaurant, specializing in seafood, that had been open
since my father was a kid, and no visit to the Borough of Brooklyn would be complete without chowing down on one of Lundy’s lobsters. So that’s exactly what we did. My father and I ordered the Lobsters, my mother, as always, had fried shrimp, shrimp being the only seafood she would eat, and my sister, who had to be cajoled and persuaded to eat anything at all, probably had a shrimp cocktail.
So, our day was over, but not this story. I haven’t told you about the tower yet. About my leap into the great unknown. About my most thrilling childhood experience. Let’s play back the day’s events exactly as they happened: the car ride in our Nash Rambler Station Wagon, past Idlewild Aiprport, and our arrival in Coney Island. The ride on The Cyclone, lunch at Nathans, Steeplechase Park, my father’s temporary salvation in the cocktail lounge, and the Steeplechase ride. And finally, dinner at Lundy’s. Let’s do it all exactly the same way, but this time add the element of two additional characters.
My father had a boyhood friend named Alex Mechanic, who I had known all my life, and who worked on the Ocean Liner S.S. United States. I’m not sure what he did exactly, but he was at sea most of the time, visiting exotic ports of call like Southampton (UK), Bremerhaven (West Germany), and LeHavre (France) on a regular basis. And he always brought back toys for me as presents, the best being from Germany. So somewhere along the way, Alex met and fell in love with a French woman named Maurice Plumile, who he brought to America to be his bride. I suspect that my parents had a hand in sponsoring Maurice’s presence in America, because, when she first arrived, she stayed with us for a month or so. Or, until Alex could find them an apartment somewhere in Queens. Most of what I remember about Maurice’s tumultuous stay in our house was her cooking, which drew ooh’s and ah’s from all concerned, causing my mother to have a series of anti-Maurice meltdown fits, that resulted in a ‘her or me’ ultimatum, upon which the woman was resettled in her new Queens apartment. Maurice, insecure on unfamiliar turf, did what most newly immigrated people do, she complained. “Thees ees not like France. Een France theengs are much better. I can not eat thees food. They eat like barbarians here. Thees ees not like France”. This went on until my mother finally exploded. “If things are so great in France, what the hell is this woman doing in my house?” So, off went Maurice with her sailor boy Alex, to their Queens love-nest, and the cuisine at 9 Elderberry Lane sadly returned to burned meat and frozen vegetables.
In time, Maurice found a job as a manicurist somewhere near her love-nest, and my mother’s furious resentment settled down enough to allow Alex and Maurice to visit on a regular basis. At my father’s suggestion, an invitation was extended to Alex and Maurice to accompany our family on a journey to Coney Island, and so we did just that, and the six of us crammed into our Nash Rambler Station Wagon, ready to share the experience.
So it began, this time with six of us; riding The Cyclone, eating at Nathans, doing Steeplechase Park, sneaking off for secret drinks (this time I got two maraschino cherries), taking the Steeplechase ride, and now it was time for my ritualistic fit of crying, begging, and groveling in the off chance that my parents would remotely consider my Parachute Ride. And I got the usual reaction: NO, NO, NO, NO! And then the impossible happened. Alex Mechanic spoke up, “No, wait. I’ll go with Shaun. It’ll be fun. I’d love to do it”. And just like that, my life was transformed. What could my parents do? They had to agree. Alex would go with me, and we got on line. Nine year-olds are fearless, and I was no exception, but the chair that you sat in on the Parachute Jump was even flimsier than the harness on the Steeplechase Ride. A simple wooden chair for two with a wooden safety bar, and leather belt of some kind. Madness! Not that I considered it at the time, but this thing was downright dangerous. The height at which the victims were released was 260 feet. The thought of it now makes me shiver. But, Alex and Shaun were strapped in, and slowly we rose above the hustle-bustle of the beach crowd, silently climbing higher, and higher, the noise of the lift’s mechanism growing louder as we approached the top. Off to the East we could see the Long Island beaches for miles and miles. And to the West New York’s vast harbor, and behind us Manhattan’s skyline, and then it happened. There was a loud cracking sound as our chute was released into a free-fall of about fifty feet, until the mechanism caught us, stopping the fall. The stopping of the free-fall was so abrupt that we were both lifted what seemed like a few feet off our skimpy wooden chair, crashing back into it as we settled into the gradual and mechanically-aided descent. From here on in, the view was the thing, and we savored it. I’m not sure of the elapsed time of the entire event, but it seemed much longer than it probably took. My parents, my sister, and Maurice were waving as we descended, and we joined them on the ground. I had done it. Finally! After years of pathetic groveling, all it took was someone to say, “No, wait. I’ll go with Shaun”.
I bought the statuette of the tower at the concession’s booth, next to the exit, and it immediately found a place of honor in my room – something to boast about, exaggerate about, add adjectives to, until it became another story entirely – told among boys who tend to boast. That trip was my family’s last journey to Coney Island. And the only time I took the para-plunge. As an adult, I visited the rapidly decaying community two or three times a year. Steeplechase Park was long closed, and the whole place seemed smaller with each visit, slowly becoming a haven for drugs and hookers and the accompanying dangers of that element. During a winter visit in the early Seventies I found a starving, abandoned guard dog, in a fenced-in area that contained a ride that was closed for the season. I broke through the fence, and cautiously approached the starving animal, who timidly licked my hand. I carried her, she couldn’t walk, to my car, put her in my trunk, and took her to New York’s amazing Animal Medical Center on York Avenue in Manhattan. She weighed only thirty five pounds. I named her Miss Coney Island, and she remained with me for another eight years, living with me in the country, up in Ulster County, and growing to be a vigorous 110 pound Belgian Shepherd.
As my family’s last Coney Island Adventure came to a close, and we began to walk away from the glorious venue of my one and only para-experience, Alex Mechanic, who had come to my aid, and my salvation, enabling me to take that leap into the unknown for which I would forever own bragging rights, and who was walking just ahead with my father, suddenly stopped and turned around, slapping his hands together and rubbing them back and forth, looked right at me and said, “What do you say, young man? How about some lobster?”
© 2011 Shaun Costello